NAICU Washington Update

House College Cost Hearing More Tempered than Anticipated

November 06, 2007

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle showed up in large numbers for a two-hour-plus hearing on college cost November 1. Despite indications that questions would be tough, and that there was much constituent anger to reckon with, the hearing was unexpectedly reasonable and deliberative in tone.

Among the three witnesses was NAICU board member John Bassett, president of Clark University in Worcester, Mass. Bassett was asked to speak specifically about NAICU's U-CAN project. Committee members have been impressed with U-CAN, and arranged for Bassett to do a "live" demonstration of the site on the wide-screen monitors permanently installed in the committee room. Bassett then fielded questions from the 26 committee members in attendance. (His full testimony is posted on the NAICU Web site.)

The other two witnesses were F. King Alexander, president of California State University at Long Beach, and Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Costs, Productivity and Accountability.

The measured tone of the hearing, however, was augmented by some frank assessments - coming from both sides of the aisle - that every town hall meeting in America these days seems to include a discussion of college cost. It is clear that Congress plans to take some legislative action on the matter as part of the upcoming Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization.

Committee Chair George Miller (D-Calif.) made the point crystal clear when he said that Congress's recent $20 billion investment in student aid would make no difference if something wasn't also done on the cost side of the equation. He did, though, carefully use the language of "partnership" that NAICU has been promoting - in other words, that colleges, government, families, and philanthropy will all have to work together to address the college cost issue in a meaningful way.

Rep. Ric Keller (R-Fla.), ranking member of the higher education subcommittee, was more blunt, saying that while no one was proposing "price controls," many members of Congress were "ticked off" about escalating prices.

Meanwhile, higher education groups anxiously await the public release of draft language on the House HEA reauthorization bill, which could come as early as this week, with a possible committee mark-up as early as November 14. Only when we see actual bill language will we know if Keller's definition of "no price controls" meets that of the college community.

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