Congressional Hearing Reveals Bipartisan Education Policy Rifts

By Abdul-Alim, Jamaal | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, March 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Congressional Hearing Reveals Bipartisan Education Policy Rifts


Abdul-Alim, Jamaal, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


As the higher education community continues to mull the merits of e Obama administration's college affordability plan, a Senate hearing earlier this month yielded additional insight into the rocky path the plan must travel to become a reality.

"We've got a long way to go in this debate," Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said at the Feb. 2 Senate education committee hearing titled "Innovations in College Affordability."

Like other Republican senators, Burr was particularly critical of the Obama administration's proposed $1 billion "Race to the Top" competitive grant program that would reward states that keep tuition down.

He said the program would be unfair to states such as North Carolina, where tuition is going up recently only because, historically, the state has heavily subsidized higher education but is no longer able to do SO.

"I find it incredible that we might think of a program that would exclude or create some type of a penalty on a state that has shown tremendous support and subsidies in the past because they may tick up a little more than everybody else because they've held it down so tight for so long," Burr said.

When Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., ranking member of the Senate education committee, asked Under Secretary of Education Martha J. Kanter if the administration was going to bring the committee some legislation or try to "circumvent" the committee and seek to implement the plan through budget appropriations--as he said the administration has done for the past three years--Kanter offered an ambivalent response, saying to Enzi, "I'll have to get back to you on the specifics."

Senators on both sides of the aisle sought to revisit the issue of whether federal regulation causes universities to spend money on compliance that could be spent on educating students.

"We're concerned that regulation leads to strangulation of innovation in higher education, where the money goes into regulatory compliance rather than help the students or holding costs down," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.).

Sen. Lamar Alexander said he likes the Race to the Top concept but that it was "headed in the wrong direction" and that there ought to be a Race to the Top competition among federal agencies to see if they can craft regulation that "stops adding mandates to states that increase the cost of government and reduce the amount of money available for colleges and universities."

"That's the real reason tuitions have been going up," Alexander said. "It's a problem here in Washington, not in the states."

Panelist Kevin Carey, education policy director at Education Sector, a policy think tank in Washington, D.C., countered there isn't much credible evidence that the cost of compliance with reasonable regulation is driving up tuition. …

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