|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Thursday, July 8, 2004
Chronicle of Higher Education 7-8-04
Republican Lawmakers Criticize Higher-Education Lobbyists in Letter to
6,700 College Presidents
Two key Republican lawmakers have sent a letter to the presidents of more than 6,700 colleges and other schools accusing college lobbyists of spreading "misinformation" about legislation in Congress to renew the Higher Education Act.
The five-page letter, which was mailed late last month, is the latest salvo in what has become a war of words between the lobbyists and the congressmen, who introduced the bill in May, over various provisions in the legislation (HR 4283). The lobbyists say the bill would increase the government's oversight of colleges and add to their regulatory burdens (The Chronicle, June 25).
The congressmen -- John A. Boehner, the Ohio Republican who heads the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and Howard P. (Buck) McKeon, the California Republican who leads the panel's subcommittee on higher education -- contacted the presidents of all colleges that participate in the federal student-aid programs, including both nonprofit and for-profit institutions as well as schools that teach trades, such as cosmetology and truck-driving.
The representatives took that unusual step because they have been unhappy with how some higher-education associations have characterized the bill, Alexa Marrero, a spokeswomen for the education committee, said on Wednesday.
The congressmen were concerned, she said, "that not all of the facts about the bill were filtering down to the campuses."
Relations between college lobbyists and the two lawmakers have been testy all year. But they took a turn for the worse at the end of May, when dozens of higher-education associations sent letters to the congressmen saying they would oppose the higher-education bill unless major changes were made to it (The Chronicle, June 11).
The Higher Education Act, which governs most federal student-aid programs, must be periodically renewed, a process called reauthorization. Representatives Boehner and McKeon's bill, known as the College Access and Opportunity Act, would have been the vehicle for accomplishing that this year. But last month, Mr. McKeon said the bill would not come up for a vote this year (The Chronicle, July 2).
Among other things, the lobbying groups complained that the legislation would not do enough to help financially needy students go to college, would unnecessarily ratchet up federal intervention into the affairs of colleges, and would significantly increase colleges' reporting requirements.
The lawmakers responded to the higher-education associations' letters with a sharply written letter of their own, denying the groups' assertions and accusing them of putting self-interest ahead of the needs of other Americans. There "appears to be a growing disconnect," the congressmen wrote in early June, "between the priorities of the lobbying community and those of parents, students, and taxpayers, who are increasingly concerned about the condition of American higher education."
In the letter that they later sent to college presidents, the congressmen reiterated that concern.
"Our priority is and must be to do what is best for students," Representatives Boehner and McKeon wrote. "This may not always be what is best for lobbyists. Indeed, it may not even be everything the institutions are seeking. But surely we can all come together to recognize that what is good for students is good for higher education in America."
Leaders of some of the college groups were annoyed that the lawmakers had sent letters criticizing them to the presidents. But most lobbyists did not expect the letters to make much of a difference.
"College presidents have been closely following reauthorization for the better part of a year and are politically sophisticated people," said David L. Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. "Their concerns shape the policy positions that we take to the Hill. The message from our campuses on how to best achieve access, affordability, and appropriate accountability through the Higher Education Act will remain the same."
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