House GOP Education Leaders Declare Cost Crisis in Higher Education; Announce Principles for Reform

July 23, 2003

The GOP education leaders announced a set of principles that will guide efforts to complete reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) during the next several months as Congress responds to the cost crisis and seeks to bring new accountability to federal higher education programs.

“The higher education system is in crisis, and federal higher education programs aren’t having the impact they should for parents and students. The federal role in higher education needs to be realigned to confront the cost crisis head-on,” said House Education & the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-OH). “The dream of a higher education should be available to every American who strives for it. Current federal policy simply isn’t getting the job done.”

“We’re spending more than ever on higher education at the federal level, yet fewer and fewer students are able to take advantage of that investment. We’re spending a staggering $90 billion a year on federal higher education programs, including $65 billion in the form of direct financial assistance to students, yet the dream of a college education is slipping further and further away from the typical U.S. family. We need to change course before a college degree becomes an impossible dream for low and middle income American students,” said House 21st Century Competitiveness Subcommittee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA).

Four principles will govern legislative action in the coming months as the committee works to address the cost crisis and bring new accountability to federal higher education programs, committee Republicans announced. The four principles are:

– Holding colleges accountable for cost increases – without inappropriate federal involvement. The primary federal investment in higher education, ringing in at more than $65 billion in FY2003 alone, is direct financial assistance to students – and the cornerstone of increasing access for low-income students is the Pell Grant. However, despite the ever-increasing federal financial commitment and record spending for Pell Grants under President Bush, rapidly increasing college costs are depleting the purchasing power of the Pell Grant and putting college out of reach for many needy students. Republicans will seek to make information about cost increases more available to parents and students, and to hold colleges accountable for their cost increases without imposing an inappropriate federal role.

The crisis of college costs is particularly devastating to teachers in high-demand subject areas – highly qualified math and science teachers for example often have more lucrative opportunities outside of K-12 education, and the high cost they incur for their college education prevents them from entering the classrooms where they are needed the most. The House recognized this particular burden, and approved the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act earlier this month to address it. The bill, authored by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), raises the maximum amount of student loan forgiveness available for these much-needed teachers in the subjects of math, science, and special education to ensure that the skyrocketing college costs they face do not prevent them from entering the nation’s classrooms.

– Removing barriers for non-traditional students. Though college costs are a significant impediment for many aspiring college students, they are but one of many unnecessary barriers to a college education in America. Expanding opportunities for students by removing these barriers will help increase access to college. Republicans believe innovative solutions such as distance learning and the use of advanced technology in the classroom can provide non-traditional college students with a chance to succeed. Republicans also believe addressing the needs of America’s minority serving institutions must be a priority.

– Improving quality and innovation by empowering consumers. Republicans believe reauthorization of the HEA is an important opportunity to hold institutions accountable by adding new transparency so parents, students, and taxpayers know what they’re getting for their multi-billion dollar investment. Choosing a college is a decision that will affect a student for the rest of his or her life. For that reason, Republicans believe, colleges should have an obligation to provide useful, easy to use, and understandable information so students and parents can make this monumental decision with all the facts in hand. Colleges often assure Congress that they are reporting volumes of data. Republicans believe the HEA reauthorization provides an opportunity to make sure schools are reporting the right data, and that it’s available for parents and students in a consumer-friendly, useful, and easy to understand format. For example, accreditation is often viewed as a seal of approval for an institution of higher education, yet few parents, students or taxpayers know what accreditation entails. By opening up the accreditation process, and allowing a more clear understanding of the factors involved in this process, the public will have an important window into the nation’s colleges and universities. Republicans also believe that a dynamic market, driven by consumers with the information they need to make their own best choices, is the most effective force for bringing quality and innovation to our higher education system.

The House has already taken the first step in bringing accountability to higher education programs through the Ready to Teach Act, a bill which was approved with overwhelming bipartisan support on July 9. The bill, authored by Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA), will strengthen teacher training programs to help states and schools recruit and retain highly qualified teachers. The legislation closes a loophole in current law that has allowed reported data to be skewed, distorted, and often irrelevant. By strengthening the reporting requirements, this bill provides increased transparency and will provide the public with a true measure of the programs training the teachers of tomorrow.

– Realigning student aid programs to ensure fairness for America’s neediest students and families. In 1965, enacting the Higher Education Act, Congress for the first time put into place legislation that could make the dream of college a reality for low-income students who previously had little chance of a postsecondary education. In recent years, however, the federal government has begun to lose sight of this original mission. Federal resources are increasingly subsidizing individuals who have long since earned their degrees and entered the workforce, and a declining share of federal resources are being devoted to low-income students striving for the dream of a higher education. Reauthorization of the HEA provides Congress with an opportunity to realign student aid programs to ensure that they are fairly administered and meeting their fullest potential to serve students in need.

There is no doubt about the reality of the college cost crisis. According to the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, cost factors prevent 48 percent of all college-qualified, low-income high-school graduates from attending a four-year college and 22 percent from pursuing any college at all. Students from moderate-income families do not fare much better — 43 percent are unable to attend a four-year institution and 16 percent are unable to enroll at any college. At this rate, by the end of the decade more than two million college-qualified students will miss out on the opportunity to go to college.

he College Board reports that the average tuition at a public four-year institution is over $4,000, an increase of 9.6 percent over last year. Average tuition at a private college or university is over $18,000, an increase of 5.8 percent over last year’s average. These increases exceeded the rise in the Consumer Price Index by 8.4 and 4.7 percent, respectively. This is a troubling pattern that has persisted over the past two decades.

According to the College Board, in the 1970s there was little, if any, real growth in college prices. In the early 1980s, however, tuition and fees began to grow much more rapidly than consumer prices – in fact, during the 1980s, the cost of attending college rose over three times as fast as median family income. This trend of rapidly-increasing college costs has continued through the 1990s. Over the ten-year period ending in 2002–2003, after adjusting for inflation, average tuition and fees at both public and private four-year colleges and universities rose 38 percent. There is no question that college cost increases are dramatic, and Republicans believe now is the time to address this crisis in higher education head-on.

Steve Forde

Press Secretary