Leaders Lash Out at ‘Price Control’ Legislation
By Charles Dervarics
Higher education leaders are waging a pre-emptive strike against new legislation they fear could impose government price controls on colleges.
At issue is a proposal from Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives’ postsecondary education subcommittee, which would issue sanctions against colleges whose tuition increases are twice the rate of inflation. If a college raises tuition by that amount, it first would have to provide a written explanation to the U.S. Department of Education. If it fails to bring tuition more in line with inflation within a year, the college could lose eligibility for federal student aid programs.
McKeon has yet to introduce a bill, but staff members have said he may do so within the next month. Already, the nation’s main higher education organization is trying to scuttle the proposal.
“This legislation imposes price controls, plain and simple — something the federal government has not done to any profession or industry in decades,” says Dr. David Ward, president of the American Council on Education.
With many states beset by funding crises and opting for major tuition increases, the McKeon bill will “tell the American people that there is indeed such a thing as a ‘free lunch,’ ” Ward says.
The ACE president also criticized the plan as “irresponsible” because it would not link a school’s tuition policies to its education quality, class size, faculty qualifications or commitment to enroll low-income students. About 1,400 colleges could have lost eligibility for student aid funding had this policy been in effect during the past two years, he says.
The as-yet-unintroduced bill comes at a time when the U.S. Congress is beginning to focus on student aid and college accountability as it tackles reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. As chair of the Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness, McKeon will oversee the House panel responsible for crafting an HEA reauthorization bill that affects all aspects of postsecondary policy, including student aid and aid to Black colleges.
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