Alexander to Higher Education Leaders: Rally Lawmakers in Support of Streamlining Federal Regulations

March 17, 2015

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The evidence detailing the need to overhaul federal higher education regulations is easy to come by, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said Tuesday morning during a session at ACE’s 97th Annual Meeting.

It can be seen in the 108-question federal student aid form, commonly known as the FAFSA, that Alexander likes to unfurl in front of an audience, a complicated document that he says prevents many low-income students from applying to college and can be simplified to just two questions about family size and income.

Sen. Lamar Alexander

More evidence: an independent study commissioned by Vanderbilt University (TN) found that it spends $146 million of its $1.2 billion annual budget to comply with federal regulations.

That is why Alexander is embracing the recommendations made by the Task Force on the Federal Regulation of Higher Education. Alexander and a bipartisan group of U.S. senators created the task force, which Feb. 12 released a report examining how the federal oversight of higher education has evolved and expanded over the years.

The report offers a set of recommendations aimed at streamlining and simplifying regulations that undermine the ability of colleges and universities to serve students, even as it reaffirms the important role regulations play in ensuring institutional accountability and responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

Joining Alexander for the Annual Meeting discussion about the task force were its co-chairs, chancellors William E. Kirwan of the University System of Maryland and Nicholas S. Zeppos of Vanderbilt.

Alexander, chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), asked the college and university presidents and other higher education leaders present at the session to meet with lawmakers from their states to detail their own evidence and tell the story about why federal regulations need to be streamlined. He said there is bipartisan support for many of the recommendations and the overall concept of simplifying regulations, but that lawmakers need to hear from leaders from institutions in their home states and districts.

That applies especially to the 22 members of the HELP committee, which held a hearing about the task force report last month and will be working this year to incorporate as many of the task force recommendations as possible into the pending reauthorization of the Higher Education (HEA), Alexander said.

Alexander said he will attempt to include as many of the task force’s 59 recommendations as he can into the HEA bill he hopes to pass this year, “but a lot of that depends on your visits” to local lawmakers, he told audience members.

He also urged higher education leaders to make the case to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, saying this is not a partisan issue and that he expects to work closely with Senate Democrats.

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