NAICU Washington Update

St. John's, Annapolis, President Testifies at House Committee Hearing on Regulatory Burden

March 04, 2011

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing March 1 to examine the regulatory burden placed on educational institutions.  Christopher Nelson, president of St. John's College, Annapolis, testified on behalf of NAICU, addressing the full range of regulatory challenges facing colleges and universities. The committee also heard from three witnesses representing K-12 education.

A consistent theme among the witnesses was the extent to which the accumulation of regulatory and reporting requirements diverts attention and resources from the primary mission of educating students.  Nelson captured the committee's attention with three huge binders containing just the summaries of laws that pertain to colleges. The binders were "on loan" from The Catholic University of America general counsel's office.  They accompany the office's nine-page A-to- Z listing on Catholic's extensive "Campus Legal Information Clearinghouse" website.

Nelson said he doesn't question whether any one of these requirements "supports a good end," but noted that their cumulative effect presents a real problem.  He suggested that the committee might consider a "pay-go" approach, with some of the old requirements being discarded when new ones are created.  He observed that this approach could be applied both to regulatory requirements and to data collection.

Nelson closed his testimony by stressing that the regulatory burden itself is, in fact, not the most worrisome aspect of the issue.  "What concerns me most," he said, "is the extent to which the regulatory process has ripple effects that intrude into the very essence of the academic undertaking - effects that challenge the independence of our schools to determine what may be taught, to whom, by whom, and how."  He cited the efforts of federal and state agencies to dictate academic decisions through mandates on accrediting agencies as a particularly troubling example of this trend.

This hearing was one of a series of oversight hearings planned by the House education committee.  Next up is a March 11 hearing of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training entitled "Education Regulations:  Federal Overreach into Academic Affairs."  That hearing will include a look at the program integrity regulations issued last October that, among other things, provide a federal definition of "credit hour" and strengthen state authorization requirements (see related story).

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