Congressmen promote higher education bill

Lacey Crisp

To gain support for part of the Higher Education Reauthorization bill, two Republican House members sent a letter late last month to approximately 6,700 colleges and universities.

Although the University is expected to receive a copy of the letter, officials haven’t received it yet, said John Engelen, director of University Relations.

John Boehner, House Committee on Education and the Workforce chairman, and Howard McKeon, Higher Education Subcommittee chairman, sent the letter to presidents of universities that receive federal student aid.

Disagreements over a few key parts of the bill have delayed its passing.

In the letter, Boehner and McKeon addressed some areas of disagreement and urged colleges to embrace aspects of the bill that will benefit them.

“While we believe it is important to debunk the myths surrounding the provisions of the College Access and Opportunity Act,” they wrote, “it is essential that we do not forget about these issues are just a few of the components of our broad proposal to expand college access for low- and middle-income students.”

But Democrats and University officials said there are more effective ways of communicating about the bill than the congressmen’s letter.

Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., called for a hearing on the bill, which she opposes.

“The chairmen sent out a letter that reflects the political views of their party, and not that of the committee,” McCollum said.

McCollum said the current bill won’t help students, and a bill needs to be passed to make college affordable for students and parents.

Alexa Marrero, press secretary for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said the congressmen had concerns that education leaders were getting the wrong messages about the bill from lobbyists.

“Throughout the process of reauthorizing the bill, the chairmen have been in contact with the education community,” Marrero said. “This was just one more step.”

But Engelen said more communication between Congress and universities is necessary.

“A letter like this isn’t going to change anybody’s mind,” Engelen said. “The higher education community has valid concerns about this bill.”

Engelen said he was surprised to hear about the letter, especially since it was sent to about 6,700 schools across the nation.

Engelen said it is unusual for legislatures to send out such a letter, and said there needs to be more communication between Congress and the education community.

“There is a hangover of animosity of all the work that has gone into this bill,” Engelen said. “I think Chairmen Boehner and McKeon are trying to do what they can do get this bill passed.”

The University of Minnesota – Morris received a copy of the letter last week.

Sam Schuman, Chancellor of the University of Minnesota – Morris, said the letter has not helped to gain his support.

“I see this as jockeying for political position,” Schuman said.

Schuman said he doesn’t feel comfortable with the bill’s current version, and the letter is not going to persuade him to support the bill.

“My biggest concern with the bill is the impulse to start spreading federal financial aid into for-profit institutions for post-secondary education,” Shuman said.

Part of the bill would give federal aid to students at for-profit institutions.

Schuman said by giving aid to for-profit institutions, the bill would increase the profit those schools make by attracting more students.

“I think it is a direction that we should not be going to as a nation,” Schuman said. “It is unusual for congressmen to send out letters like this for particular bills.”

Barry Toiv, spokesman for the Association of American Universities, said he is disappointed with the committee’s approach and hopes the association and the committee can work together to pass a bill that will benefit students and universities.

“We hope they seek support for this bill by making modifications to help students out more,” Toiv said.

The Association of American Universities represents 60 universities across the nation and works with legislatures to pass bills that will benefit the education community.

“Congress needs to live up to the commitment to support students and families by providing adequate assistance to help them make college possible,” Toiv said.