A Comment on the College Cost Reduction Act

Teresa R. Manning

On January 31, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce marked up the College Cost Reduction Act (the “CCRA,” H.R. 6951), a 223-page bill addressing escalating costs in American higher education.

Introduced by Committee Chair Woman Virginia Foxx (R-NC), the CCRA can be seen as one Republican response to the Biden Administration's attempts to cancel student loan debt, an unacceptable band-aid measure that allows schools to continue business as usual. While the United States Supreme Court stopped one such attempt last year in the case of Biden v. Nebraska, smaller, piecemeal cancellations are quietly taking place within the Education Department, announcing community college debt forgiven here, and for-profit school debt forgiven there. One wonders if there’s a backstory here—are defaults so high that the cancellation is less forgiveness and more a rubber stamp on what’s happening anyway?

But at least both Republicans and Democrats know something is rotten in the state of American Higher Education.

Neither seems too serious about the real and substantive reform needed. The Democrat focus on cancellation treats only symptoms, while Republican talk of transparency and accountability does little to address the financial realities of ever escalating tuition, enriched schools, and encumbered graduates and families.

To be fair, higher ed's problems are so numerous and longstanding, including not just out-of-control costs but staggering conformity and pathetic, politicized content. Those responsible are so entrenched that no single measure by Congress would suffice to cure it, except, perhaps, a moratorium on federal funding—maybe also a moratorium on operations—while authorities conduct a financial and legal audit to clean house. That audit would need to ask: Why are graduates so ignorant and unprepared for employment? Why is their debt so high while median salaries remain so low? Could industries simply recruit from high schools and bypass the post-secondary education altogether? Why are universities run by Democrats when their tax status presumes they are for the public interest not to benefit the political left?

Until that day of audit comes, however, the CCRA is a decent starting point.

Thankfully, Chairwoman Virginia Foxx really gets it. Schools take the money and run, leaving students, middle-class families, and taxpayers holding the bag that massively subsidized America's radicalized, destructive, and hard-to-navigate higher ed system. As the bill notes, financial aid is a maze. The school ranking system is broken. Academic programs are politicized incoherence. And the actual cost of attendance is anybody’s guess since schools change the price (i.e., tuition) depending on the applicant.

And, of course, every class, department, and administrator is infected with destructive diversity ideology—effectively thought control run amok.

No single bill can tackle all of these issues. But the CCRA tries to get the ball rolling. First and most important, the CCRA would force schools to have “skin in the game” by putting them on the hook—not the American taxpayer—for unpaid student loans. While bailing out young people duped by schools is less repulsive than bailing out big banks, blanket student loan cancellation is a boon for schools as they continue to take the easy federal loan money, raise tuition, and hire more administrative apparatchiks while shouldering no corresponding burden or risk. The CCRA targets all that for change, none too soon.

Second, the CCRA allows schools to avoid that risk if they discontinue, that is “cease disbursement of federal student loans,” for programs producing defaults—read Women's Studies, Queer Theory, Gender Whatever and other grievance departments whose graduates learn to complain rather than produce.

The CCRA also has provisions on annual student loan limits, maximum guaranteed tuition price, and reform of the accreditation system.

One provision authorizes the “Commissioner of Education Statistics” to collect more long-term information on graduates who receive federal loans—not just immediate employment prospects but later salary ranges and career opportunities. NAS is somewhat ambivalent about this. On the one hand, more information is usually better; on the other hand, scrutiny should be on the schools, not on Americans already subject to too much Big Brother surveillance.

So Republicans, and especially Chair Woman Foxx, get credit for stepping up to the plate here. The CCRA is not a home run, but it’s a pretty good start for what is unfortunately going to be a long game.

Photo by rc.xyz NFT gallery on Unsplash

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