House to vote on bill limiting U.S. Department of Education regulations

The bill, which passed a key committee July 24, was introduced by Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., among others.

House to vote on bill limiting U.S. Department of Education regulations

Roy Aker

A bill that would limit the authority of the U.S. Department of Education passed a key committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on July 24.

The Supporting Academic Freedom through Regulatory Relief Act would eliminate certain Department of Education federal student aid regulations. These include the federal definition of the credit hour, which determines how much aid students receive, and rules that keep graduates’ debt-to-income ratios and loan repayment rates in check.

Higher education institutions are divided in their support of the bill. While public colleges and universities generally favor the regulations, some for-profit and private institutions say compliance is too difficult.

Organizations including the American Council on Education and the Association of American Universities have endorsed the bill. The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, of which the University of Minnesota is a part, hasn’t taken a stance.

In an email statement, University spokesman Matt Hodson said the University also hasn’t taken a formal stance on the bill.

Jeff Lieberson, APLU spokesman, said the association hasn’t endorsed the bill because it’s unlikely to pass.

“Given that Senate leaders have made it clear they’re not going to move this legislation now,” he said, “we didn’t think it was necessary to become involved at this time.”

Protecting students or hurting schools?

While bill opponents say the federal regulations protect students, its supporters say the regulations are too burdensome for institutions.

Proponents representing some private and for-profit colleges said in a July 17 letter that the regulations create “challenging compliance issues.”

The letter also said the definition of a credit hour is “horribly muddled and opens the door to federal interference in core academic decisions.”

Opponents say the bill protects the interests of for-profit colleges by eliminating financial aid regulations that keep tabs on schools whose students graduate with unusually high debt.

In a July 19 letter, organizations including the American Association of University Professors said “the bill would reward institutions that deceive prospective students and provide low-quality, overpriced educational services …”

In 2012, for-profit college students made up 13 percent of all U.S. college students but accounted for nearly half of all student loan defaults.

A particularly controversial part of the bill would repeal regulations that require colleges and universities to meet requirements for graduates’ debt-to-income ratios and student loan repayment rates.

Currently, schools must meet these in order to be eligible to participate in federal student aid programs. If a school’s graduates have low loan repayment rates and high debt-to-income ratios, then its federal student aid can be cut off.

According to campaign records , U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn. , who co-sponsored the bill, has received donations from numerous political action committees that represent for-profit colleges.

Of his top five campaign donors in 2011-12, three were PACs that represent for-profit colleges including DeVry Inc., Rasmussen Inc. and the Apollo Group — of which the University of Phoenix is a subsidiary.

Capella Education and Herzing College were also listed as Kline’s campaign contributors.