Given that in an election year, it’s hard to get the opposition party to do anything other than completely vilify whatever the incumbent President does, the Republican response to President Obama’s higher education speech last week was as close to supportive as one could get. In a statement issued Friday, Chairman John Kline, of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said:
“Competition and transparency are basic principles Republicans have long supported to help lower costs in higher education, and institutions have a responsibility to do everything they can to provide a good education at an affordable price.”
It’s pretty hard to argue against low-cost transparency and accountability proposals—even in an election year. The status quo isn’t working. We need change. At least the Republicans and Democrats can agree on this.
Too bad the powerful higher education lobby cannot.
Case in point: Robert Sternberg, treasurer of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), today wrote an open letter to Obama, listing 10 reasonable-sounding “hopes” for the President’s proposal. (Reasonable, that is, until you realize that this is essentially a call for the status quo.)
- Please don’t rush it
- Please respect differences in college missions and goals
- Please understand the limitations of standardize test
- Please understand the pressures on college tuition and fees
- Please take into account factors that lead to differential college completion rates
- Please be temperate in focusing on a jobs-based agenda
- Please don’t force us into political correctness
- Please ensure sufficiency of resources
- Please create a sustainable program
- Please ensure whatever program is enacted has self-correcting mechanisms
David Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), earlier chimed in with his own “support” that stopped short of actually supporting anything that would require higher education institutions to re-examine their ways.
“We welcome the president’s commitment to increasing the federal government’s investment in student assistance, including his call for doubling Federal Work-Study funding, expanding the Perkins Loan program, and making the tuition tax credit permanent. We also welcome a more robust conversation on college affordability.”
Great! Because that’s what Obama wants too. He’s even proposed tying some (very small) portion of financial aid to institutions that keep down net tuition and provide good value, while still serving needy students.
NAICU’s response to this specific proposal? A whole lot of generalized concern about federal overreach.
“Colleges, states, and the federal government must work together in a climate of mutual trust and collaboration. The answer is not going to come from more federal controls on colleges or states.”
In other words: Thanks for the money. Keep the change.
Sorry, One Dupont, that’s not going to cut it anymore, as my colleague Kevin Carey wrote today in The New Republic. Higher education institutions have, for too long, sat in the shadows of the college tuition crisis as the President and his administration have fought the student loan and for-profit industries. Now, however, it’s time to apply that same scrutiny to non-profits.
While reaction from traditional higher education thus far has been polite, but wary, they’re undoubtedly preparing a more direct offensive. As Andrew Kelly of American Enterprise Institute points out:
“If anyone is considering a career change, now would be the time to get hitched to a higher education lobbying firm. Judging by the initial response to Obama’s ideas, it’s going to be a ‘growth industry’ over the next few months.”
I’d like to send my own message to the President as he prepares to take on this fight: Republicans are not the problem. One Dupont is. Stay strong.