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Statement from Rep. Virginia Foxx

The following is a statement from U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx. The content has not been edited in any way by the High Country Press:

President Obama’s State of the Union address and his speech at the University of Michigan made broad sweeping comments about education and the issue of rising college costs. As Chairwoman of the Higher Education Subcommittee, I share his concern about exploding college costs and the burden of student loans.  According to the College Board, tuition and fees have spiked over the last decade. In-state tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities rose approximately 72 percent since 2001, at public two-year institutions of higher education by 45 percent and private four-year institutions by 29 percent. Over the same period of time, the rate of inflation was approximately 27 percent. Obviously, there is a big gap between inflation and these rising costs; consumers want to know why.  

Record high unemployment during the Obama administration leading to weak state economies has caused states to cut funding to higher education.  Over the last year, 40 states have decreased higher education spending, including right here in North Carolina. To cover the gap, colleges and universities are raising tuition and fees but doing little to cut costs. When American families find their costs are going up, they find ways to trim spending in some areas. Unfortunately, only a few colleges and universities have been willing to cut costs. 

At my subcommittee’s hearing on college costs in November, we heard many suggestions for how colleges and universities could cut costs.  We heard from colleges who have cut their operating budgets, offered expedited degree programs and encouraged dual enrollment by high school students.  The average university is now spending 60-70 percent of its budget on employee salaries and benefits. Increasing tuition and fees can cover the gap for only so long, impending large increases in health insurance costs will make the situation worse.  Students and their families are struggling to make ends meet and higher education institutions must find ways to cut costs.

In October 2010, the administration released a package of regulations that purportedly sought to improve the integrity of financial aid programs. However, two of the regulations he proposed were duplicative and troublesome. One mandated a new federal credit hour rule that sets a federal definition of a credit hour and another added new “state authorization” regulations.

Both of these regulations inject the federal government into issues that are traditionally academic or state affairs and are duplicative of current state regulations. Onerous regulations like these come with a price and that price is paid by students and taxpayers.

To help streamline institutional spending and reduce the burden of federal regulations on institutions of higher education, I authored H.R. 2117, the Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act which seeks to repeal the state authorization regulation and the federal definition of a credit hour. This legislation passed the House Education and Workforce Committee with bipartisan support; and just last month was voted on and passed by the House of Representatives, 303 to 114.  My colleagues and I look forward to the Senate vote on this legislation and hope that it will not be delayed.

While the president’s acknowledgement of the soaring tuition costs is admirable, concerns remain that his proposed solutions, like the two repealed in my bill, will result in more federal spending and overreach into our nation’s higher education system. In the past, federal intervention in colleges has meant increased regulatory burdens for institutions and in turn, greater compliance costs trickle down and students and their families are forced to pay the price.

Before we give more control of our lives and institutions to the federal government, institutions should share best practices for cutting costs, unnecessary regulations should be scrapped and we should increase transparency so parents and students can compare institutions.  I look forward to taking President Obama up on his promise to “work with anyone in this chamber” to improve the State of our Union and comprehensively address the challenges facing college students and their families.

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx represents the Fifth Congressional District of North Carolina.  She currently serves on the House Rules Committee and as Chair of the House Higher Education subcommittee.  You may contact her office toll free at 1-866-677-8968 or e-mail her from her website, www.foxx.house.gov.