GOP drops plan to punish schools for tuition hikes

Higher ed officials said the bill would have forced program cuts at many colleges.

Amy Horst

U.S. House Republicans will not push legislation that would penalize colleges that significantly increase tuition, the congressman spearheading the proposal said yesterday.

California Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon said he will not pursue the legislation because colleges and universities have taken steps on their own to rein in tuition. But he said he would put the penalties back into his bill if he feels universities are not making enough progress.

For University and other higher education officials, the announcement is encouraging.

“It’s a welcome step,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president for the American Council on Education. “The sanctions that Mr. McKeon wanted to impose on colleges and universities was always the most controversial and problematic part of his proposal, and we’re pleased that he’s decided to go in a different direction.”

One part of the bill, which McKeon authored, would have canceled funding for student-aid programs at institutions where tuition increased at more than twice the rate of inflation.

McKeon’s proposal would have affected the University because its tuition has gone up at more than double the rate of inflation for the last four years, said Peter Zetterberg, director of the Office of Institutional Research and Reporting.

Hartle said if Congress had passed such a bill, it would have negatively affected the quality of higher education.

The bill would force universities to reduce the number of faculty and staff, and cut library hours, he said.

Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said she was pleased with McKeon’s announcement.

“I believe that nationwide, we’ve been starving our higher education institutions, and that’s eroding quality that our students want and expect,” said Pappas, chairwoman of the state Senate Higher Education Budget Division. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to punish (higher education institutions) for wanting to provide quality.”

Although McKeon withdrew the legislation, dialogue about tuition will continue nationwide, said John Engelen, University director of federal relations.

He said the University hopes to give Washington a better understanding of its situation, such as how local politics affect tuition decisions.

“We don’t turn to tuition as the first place to raise revenue when we’re pressed,” Engelen said. “We hope that the State Legislature in future years supports the University, but last year, it didn’t.”

Craig Swan, vice provost for undergraduate education, said he was pleased to see the proposal withdrawn.

“I thought it was a form of price fixing that would be bad policy generally, and in the case of universities,” Swan said.

David Arendale, a General College social sciences professor, said he hopes federal and state governments continue to pay attention to higher education.

“I think if we can come up with a solution to this, then there will not be the pressure to increase tuition at the current rate,” Arendale said. “Students are bearing the brunt for an issue that needs to be solved elsewhere.”