Sen. Alexander hits HEA reauth, cites letter from Chancellor Zeppos

From our federal office:

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander’s Remarks on the HEA Agreement

Last night during the Senate’s consideration of the Higher Education Act conference report, senior senator, Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., spoke passionately about his reservations with the agreement. Chief among his concerns are the long list of new reporting requirements with which institutions will have to comply. Excerpts from his remarks  follow:

“After 4 years, the Senate has spewed forth a well-intentioned contraption of unnecessary rules and regulations that waste time and money that ought to be spent on students and improving quality. It confirms my belief that the greatest threat to the quality of American higher education is not underfunding, it is overregulation. Current Federal rules for the 6,000 higher education institutions that accept students with Federal grants or loans fill a stack of boxes that is nearly as tall as I am. The former President of Stanford, Gerhard Casper, estimated that it cost these institutions from Harvard to the Nashville Auto Diesel College 7 cents of each federal dollar to do all the busy work to fill out these regulations. The legislation which we are considering tonight doubles those rules and regulations with 24 new categories and 100 new reporting requirements. These new requirements include a total of 54 so-called college watch lists which I believe will be too confusing for families to understand, and complicated rules involving textbooks which only will prove that Members of Congress have no idea about how faculty members prepare their courses.

“Most of these complications of rules, graduation rates in 48 different categories, disaggregation of student reporting dates by 14 racial, ethnic, and income subgroups, employment of graduates of institutions will leave college administrators scratching their heads and create thousands of new jobs for people who know how to fill out forms.

“All of this will be put on the Web, I suppose, and most of it will be sent to Washington, D.C., for someone to read. Having once been the Secretary of Education myself, I do not know who will read all these new regulations and all these new reports, and I don’t know what they would do about them if they did read them.

“The American higher education system is far from perfect, but it is one thing in our country that works and it works well. It is our secret weapon in maintaining our brain power advantage so we can keep our higher standard of living and keep our jobs from going overseas.

Sen. Alexander inserted into the congressional record and commented on several letters he received from universities and higher education groups. He singled out the letter from Chancellor Nick Zeppos:

“The third letter I would like to include is from the chancellor of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, one of our most distinguished research universities and one of which I am proud to be an alumnus. It is a well-modulated letter, as you would expect from the chancellor of Vanderbilt. The letter argues very eloquently why the autonomy, competition, and choice that characterizes excellence in higher education is so important and so fragile and needs to be respected by us as we pass higher education bills, rather than to use a blunderbuss and start stacking boxes and boxes of regulations on institutions such as Vanderbilt. Why do we think we can do a better job in the Senate making Vanderbilt University a better university by complying with all this stuff, when it takes money that might be used to educate the students and improve academic excellence? They already have deans, vice chancellors, provosts, chancellors, and a board of trustees.”

Sen. Alexander’s press release echoed his remarks on the Senate floor. Ultimately, he was one of eight Senators to oppose the agreement; Tennessee’s junior Senator Bob Corker, (R) also opposed the agreement. In the House, Reps. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and John Duncan, R-Tenn., also opposed the agreement; Tennessee’s seven other House Members supported it.

A list of Vanderbilt experts available to discuss the legislation is available here.

*** For more coverage on the passage of this landmark legislation, see also:
House Acts to Overhaul College Loan Regulations
By Tamar Lewin | New York Times | Aug. 1, 2008

Long-Overdue Higher-Education Bill Is Close to Becoming Law
By Kelly Field | The Chronicle of Higher Education | Aug. 1, 2008

Congress Passes Legislation to Curb College Lending Practices
By Olevia Staley | Bloomberg | Aug. 1, 2008

Congress Passes College-Oversight Bill

By Anne Marie Chaker | Wall Street Journal | Aug. 1, 2008


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