Chancellor: new higher ed legislation might be pricey

After the first of six nationwide open meetings with the U.S. Department of Education on Friday in the Brown-Lupton University Union Ballroom regarding the recently enacted Higher Education Opportunity Act, many college officials are hoping that the new legislation will not come with too high of a price tag.”This bill is going to add enormously to our costs,” Chancellor Victor Boschini said. “The burden of the new reporting requirements alone is mind-boggling.”

Boschini, who also serves as the chairman of the board for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, spoke on behalf of TCU, addressing several issues in the legislation, including the various new reporting requirements. The meeting gave representatives from colleges and universities, as well as financial institutions and members of the general public, including students, an opportunity to address a panel of three Department of Education officials with concerns in regard to the legislation’s forthcoming implementation.

The new legislation will require colleges and universities to report more information about their prices and costs. Those schools with the highest percentage tuition increases will be placed on a “watch list” and will be expected to explain these increases to the Department of Education. Other measures include simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, requiring institutions to report the names of students who illegally download copyrighted property and increasing maximum limits on federal grant and loan programs.

Boschini asked the panel to select negotiators who are legitimate representatives of the affected parties in the official policies and procedures writing process.

“At several points during the past decade, negotiators with a narrow perspective have been chosen to represent broad sectors of American higher education,” Boschini said. “There are many experts in Washington who are immersed in details of this legislation and knowledgeable of both our needs and the intent of Congress.”

He also asked that further regulations regarding the new reports and disclosures the law requires in areas such as fire safety, campus emergency response and file sharing, be kept to a minimum. However, he said murky areas in the legislation, such as sections addressing conflict of interest between colleges and lenders, need further clarification.

Sarah Flanagan, vice president for government relations and policy development for the NAICU, agrees. She said this legislation is going to be a lot of work for a school like TCU. Flanagan, like many others, predicted that with 110 new reporting and record keeping requirements, the new legislation may likely drive up tuition costs.

Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, said the Department of Education will use these meetings to educate itself to write more accurate implementation.

Michael Scott, director of scholarships and financial aid, said he was also concerned with the original legislation’s accusatory tone on preferred lender lists, under the student loan “Sunshine” provision.

The “Sunshine” provision addresses recent controversies regarding relationships between educational institutions and student lenders, including conflicts of interest, preferred lender lists and disclosure of loan terms and conditions. Under the act, the federal government will, for the first time, regulate not only federal student loans but also private educational lending, according to an analysis of the Act released by the American Council on Education.

Scott said these lender lists are a way to protect students from making costly mistakes in the loan application process.

The new legislation also requires universities, beginning July 1, 2010, to disclose in their course schedules to the maximum extent practicable the International Standard Book Number of every required and recommended textbook, and supplemental materials and retail price information.

Cathy Coghlan, assistant director of institutional research, said students may place too much weight on the cost of textbooks for a course, and may make enrollment decisions based on criteria other than academic reasons.

Lynn Flahive, an instructor with the Miller-Speech Hearing Clinic, said she supports teacher preparation grants for students majoring in speech pathology. She said these students require six years of schooling and many accrue expensive loans. Flahive said loan forgiveness would put much needed speech pathologists in public, urban, less advantaged schools.

Speech pathology graduate students Amy Pitcher, Candice George and Christyn Sterling agreed with her.

These hearings are only the first step in the negotiated lawmaking process, Department of Education officials said. Besides attending these hearings, interested parties may submit written addresses to the Department of Education.