House bill aims to punish schools for tuition hikes

Molly Moker

Republicans in the U.S House of Representatives want to stop large tuition increases at public universities.

On Oct. 16, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., introduced a bill that would cut financial student aid programs to colleges that raise their tuition by twice the rate of inflation for three consecutive years.

The University has raised undergraduate tuition by 13 percent each of the last three years, while the Twin Cities consumer price index went up by 2.5 percent during the same period, said Anita Newman of the Minnesota Senate Office of Fiscal Policy Analysis.

A College Board study released Tuesday found tuition at public universities nationwide increased more than 14 percent from last year – the highest increase in at least three decades.

The bill would not cut aid that goes directly to students, such as Pell Grants and federal student loans, but would cut federal aid to the institution, said Alexa Marrero, spokeswoman for the U.S. House Committee of Education in the Workforce.

Marrero said legislators are seriously considering the bill, and although it might be changed before passing, she said, she thinks it has a good chance of going through.

“Already, many concerns have been addressed and changed with this bill,” Marrero said. “It has many safeguards against taking money directly from students. (The bill) is really focused on solutions.”

Minnesota opposition

Many Minnesota legislators, however, criticized the federal proposal.

House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, D-St. Paul, called the proposal outrageous and said he doubted it would pass.

“The ultimate irony is that Republicans are cutting funding for the universities, and now they want to give even less money to the students,” Entenza said. “The idea is so wacky; it would be unlikely to pass.”

Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, and vice chairman for the Higher Education Finance Committee, said he agreed the plan is a bad idea.

“This year, we did all that we could to increase student aid,” Nornes said. “This bill will go against everything we’ve tried to accomplish.”

Under the proposed bill, colleges that increase tuition by twice the rate of inflation for three years would be required to explain the necessity of the increase to the U.S. Education Department and plan to slow tuition increases.

If a college fails to comply with the plan after two years, it would be placed on an “affordability alert status,” and if the school’s tuition still increased after another year, the Education Department would have the authority to cut some federal financial aid programs.

Student aid restrictions would not go into affect until 2011, and low-priced colleges would be exempt from the student aid cuts.