Congress Going Home Soon

Publication Number 1 October 31, 2003

The Congress is completing its appropriations bills. It may complete a few more major bills, like prescription drugs and business taxes, before it leaves for the year. The date for official adjournment this year is unclear, but there appears to be no more formal HEA legislative action (meaning committee or floor votes) in 2003.

The lack of formal action does NOT mean nothing is happening with the reauthorization of HEA. Some key developments are summarized below.

Transfers of Credits

Along with his controversial and long-awaited plan to curb college costs introduced on October 16, House Subcommittee Chair Buck McKeon included a separate provision addressing transfers of credit. In essence, it makes federal policies on institutional decisions to accept transfer credits. The five-part proposal demands additional activity from both accreditors and institutions.

This set of proposals has stirred strong objection in the higher education community. At present, CHEA and others are analyzing the direct impact on accreditors and campuses, in order to present better our objections to the authors of the proposal. Meetings and conference calls for this purpose were held last week and more will take place next week.

A full analysis of the McKeon transfer of credit proposal was prepared by CHEA and distributed on October 20. Please request a copy, if needed. CHEA will make this a top priority issue, and continue to keep you advised.

Senator Gregg Hearing on “Intellectual Diversity”

On Wednesday, October 29, the Senate HELP Committee held a hearing on campus free-speech and intellectual diversity, entitled: “Is Intellectual Diversity an Endangered Species on America’s College Campuses?” Senator Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican and the committee's chairman, said “speech codes have chilled debate in higher education”. He expressed concerns that campuses discourage or forbid certain viewpoints. The hearing was labeled by the Committee as general oversight of higher education, and not linked to any specific bill in Congress. Gregg has stated in the past that he did not see federal legislation on this topic, but that the Committee wanted to bring attention to the issues. The Chair indicated at the hearing that more hearings on the subject might be held.

Senate Democrats Propose Alternative on College Costs

On October 28, Senator Kennedy and five other Democratic members of the Senate education committee introduced S. 1793, the “College Quality, Affordability, and Diversity Improvement Act”. While stressing his desire to work with Senate Republicans, Kennedy said his bill was an alternative to “the price controls on college tuition that some have suggested”. This is an unnamed reference to the tuition price control proposals made by House Republicans.

S.1793 is a comprehensive, multi-provision bill that reaches several parts of the HEA and other laws. The bill provides major increases in Pell and campus-based student aid programs. It lowers certain fees on student loans, and alters parts of needs analysis. It expands the tax credit provisions under “Hope Scholarships”. Senator Kennedy proposes to offset these additional federal expenditures by repealing certain tax cuts, including the new lower rates on capital gains and dividends.

Any state that reduce spending on colleges by more than 10 percent in one year would be make its students ineligible for $15-billion worth of increases in federal financial aid and tax relief that the bill would provide.

The bill proposes a “College Cost Summit” meeting, where the Secretary of Education and institutions would voluntarily negotiate future limits on tuition and fee increases, under an exemption to the federal anti-trust laws.

CHEA is still analyzing the text, and will provide future information that is relevant to our mission in accreditation.