Letter to the Washington Monthly

December 06, 2007

Letters to the Editor

To the Editor:

Re: "Inside the Higher Ed Lobby," September 2007

Mr. Adler's essay on the higher ed lobby's priorities misrepresented the driving factors behind the positions taken by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, and completely ignored the non-"elite" institutions that enroll 99 percent of college students.

Adler and others who are focused on the practices of the most selective schools need to look beyond the 20 or so elite colleges that obsess them. NAICU represents 940 private colleges across the nation. Some of these are "selective." Most are not. For Adler to imply that NAICU's opposition to legislation that would federalize admissions practices at all American colleges was based on a desire to keep rich students at Ivy League universities is laughable at best.

Most of us Americans admire those well-known, "brand name" institutions, but are, ourselves, the proud alumni of humbler places. We have done fine in life-even without the federal government making managerial decisions for our alma maters.

Of course, if you are poor and get admitted to an Ivy League school, you should seriously consider it. Not only will you get a great education, but will likely pay less than you would at a local public college. The most selective colleges are very generous with grant aid, and practice need-blind admissions.

At NAICU, we put our manpower into promoting the need-based student aid programs. Yes, we also fight inappropriate federal intrusion when we see it. We are proud of our sector's independence from governmental control, and will challenge any proposal that threatens our colleges' ability to fulfill their diverse missions. We do so with a blind eye to political affiliation. Adler, himself, points out our bipartisan lobbying efforts against proposals from even friends such as Sen. Ted Kennedy and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.

Adler failed to mention our track record of constructive engagement in the legislative process-embracing good ideas from both sides of the political aisle-and proactive leadership on important national initiatives that serve the public interest.

NAICU not only launched the Student Aid Alliance, which increased the maximum Pell Grant from $2,300 in 1994-95 to $4,050 in 2003-04, but Campus Cares, a national effort to highlight and encourage more college involvement in local communities, and Your Vote, Your Voice, an initiative that promotes student civic and electoral engagement on campuses nationwide.

We are committed to enhancing institutional transparency and our accountability to the marketplace. In late September, NAICU will launch U-CAN (the University and College Accountability Network), a free, online, and comprehensive college consumer information tool. The user-friendly web site will give easy access to a wealth of data on hundreds of private colleges and universities, which is not available any where else in a central, consumer-friendly format. The content of the U-CAN web site (www.ucan-network.org) as well as its design, were driven by focus groups with prospective students and parents, conducted over the past year.

Where did this idea come from? We listened to the valid concerns of vocal critics on the college cost issue, such as Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), the Spellings Commission, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), Rep. George Miller (D-CA), and Rep. John Tierney (D-MA). With U-CAN, we are taking their good ideas and implementing a source of better consumer information to help students and parents select the best college. This includes data on each college's recent pattern of tuition increases, average student debt at graduation, and more.

Finally, NAICU is guilty as charged by Mr. Adler of meeting with Hill staff and encouraging our member colleges to engage in the political process. NAICU's government relations staff has many years of experience working on the nuts and bolts of higher education policy as congressional staff members, including serving on both sides of the aisle on many important legislative initiatives affecting college students and their families, as well as NAICU member institutions. College presidents are on the front lines working to give students an accessible, affordable, and quality academic experience. It is only natural for Hill staff to take time to listen to the well-informed concerns and recommendations of their constituents and the organizations that represent them on federal policy matters-and not just Washington think tanks.


Sarah A. Flanagan
Vice President for Government Relations and Policy
National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities


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