Friday, February 13, 2015

Regulation and Higher Education: Can We Find the Reasonable Middle?

It is rare indeed for people in higher education to agree with a conservative Republican on much of anything (most of us tend to skew towards the liberal Democrat side of things politically). But Sen. Lamar Alexander may be achieving what was once thought impossible in Washington: a bipartisan consensus around something:
Congressional Report Blasts 'a Jungle of Red Tape'
To be fair, this is not Sen. Alexander all by himself - he has put together a task force that is indeed bipartisan (two Republicans, two Democrats, all from the "reasonable middle" range of the Senate). And the report in question is not, in reality, a "Congressional" report but one developed and written by the American Council on Education (ACE). But the overall point here is to try to find that "reasonable middle" by making two points together:

• Regulation is a useful and necessary thing for helping insure quality in higher education and making sure that Federal resources (financial aid dollars) are being well-spent.

• Too much regulation, or regulation that is sloppy and poorly thought-out, can impose serious costs on universities - costs which are passed on to students in the form of higher tuition.

This latter point is one I have blogged on before (see here and the series of posts, linked in that one, that preceded it). I'm glad to see that someone else is publicly recognizing what I and others inside higher education have been saying for years - some of our cost increases and "administrative bloat" are due to ever-increasing regulations from outside.

Does that tend to make people who are otherwise Democrats look more like Republicans? Yes, it does. And I think that in this hyper partisan age, that's a good thing. Maybe higher ed can become one area where we can get past the tribal boundaries and have a real conversation about real issues. Hats off to Sen. Alexander and his colleagues from both parties for helping that to happen.

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