Lawmakers Consider Rewriting Higher Education Law

Some say that a new education bill would better define and regulate the roles of states, accreditors and the federal government in higher education.
Photo courtesy of Whitman College

Photo courtesy of Whitman College

By Marissa Higdon

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions had the first of many hearings this morning to decide if the Higher Education Act of 1965 should be renewed, how it might be changed and the possibility of creating a whole new bill.

They focused on the “triad” of higher education; a term used to describe how the federal government, the state governments, and accreditors work together to create and fund the American higher education system. The panel of education professionals at the hearing said the triad is being over-regulated and argued that a new bill would be the best solution to the communication, affordability, and innovation problems being faced by institutions of higher education.

When the panel was asked about the possibility of creating a new education bill, Terry W. Harlte, the Senior Vice President for the American Council on Education said “that is the only reasonable way to proceed with the triad.”

Ranking Republican Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former Education Secretary under President George H.W. Bush, said that his staff is prepared to draft a new bill if that is the best way to fix the higher education system.

“States should spend money on students, not regulations,” Alexander said.

The current triad system requires the three different participants to be responsible for different aspects of how colleges and universities operate. State governments are the largest players in higher education because they fund and operate the majority of institutions of higher education in the U.S. The federal government oversees the institutional strength and financial integrity of institutions to ensure that government funding given to students and institutions go to stable schools. Finally, accreditors, the final piece of the puzzle, measure the academic standards of schools and assure students of the quality of the institution.

Witnesses at today’s hearing identified many problems with the current system and suggested the new or revised bill include an increased focus on students, increased transparency in the accreditation system, and reduced variability in academic standards across state boarders.

Panel Members Paul Lingenfelter, the former President of State Higher Education Executive Officer Association, and Marshall Hall, the Executive Director of the National Council for State Authorization Recipocity Agreements, also said the issue of affordability is something that should be dealt with by state governments.

“This is a huge issue that the states need to participate in,” Lingenfelter said.

Click the audio players below to listen to highlights from today’s hearing:


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