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Congress Must Address College ‘Cost Crisis,’ GOP Says Fewer students able to take advantage of federal resources, leaders say

Congress Must Address College ‘Cost Crisis,’ GOP Says Fewer students able to take advantage of federal resources, leaders say
By Charles Dervarics

Setting the stage for a potentially contentious battle on higher education’s future, Republican education leaders in Congress say the nation’s higher education system faces a major “cost crisis” in which escalating tuitions have left many interested students unable to afford college.

“Federal higher education programs aren’t having the impact they should for parents and students,” said Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The federal role in higher education “needs to be aligned to confront the cost crisis head-on,” said Boehner, who will lead Republican efforts in a review of higher education programs that will last through 2004.

According to Boehner and Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House higher education subcommittee, GOP education leaders have four priorities to combat the crisis:

  • To hold colleges more accountable for cost increases;
  • To remove cost and other barriers facing nontraditional students;
  • To improve the quality of higher education programs and promote innovation; and
  • To “realign” student-aid programs to ensure fairness.

According to Boehner, the federal government has lost sight of its original goal to make college a reality for low-income students. Federal resources today are helping many students who already have earned their degrees and entered the work force.

“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,” McKeon added. “We need to change course before a college degree becomes an impossible dream for low- and middle-income American students,” he said.

The strong statement from the two House GOP leaders adds to the uncertainty facing student-aid programs heading into the next Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization. Earlier this year, McKeon floated the idea of creating a “college affordability index,” where colleges that exceed federally recommended levels of tuition increases would be subject to sanctions. Those comments provoked fierce criticism among higher education lobbyists concerned about Congress implementing price controls on higher education.

Due to the mounting concern, the American Council on Education gave House Republicans a detailed report about college costs, noting that most students pay less than $8,000 a year. More than half also spend less than $3,000 after factoring in student aid.

To combat talk of price controls, the ACE fact sheet also cited recent state budget cuts in education and described efforts by colleges to “set tuition costs with great care.”

“The cost of college generates more passion and confusion than any other policy issue in higher education,” said Dr. David Ward, president of ACE, in presenting the figures.

The House Education and the Workforce Committee has held some preliminary hearings on the reauthorization of the HEA, though the bill-writing process will not begin until next year.

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