Getting American kids into college without saddling them with massive debt shouldn’t be the government’s job, according to a prominent House Republican and possible 2014 Senate candidate. “It is not the role of the Congress to make college affordable and accessible,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said Wednesday morning during a committee markup of legislation that would halt federal officials from regulating for-profit educational institutions.
Foxx likened federal standards for things like the definition of a credit-hour to totalitarianism. “The attitude of the Department of Education is that total control of our lives, especially education since that’s what we’re dealing with, should be done at the federal level,” Foxx said.
The bill in question is called the Supporting Academic Freedom through Regulatory Relief Act, or SAFRRA. The bill would block three Department of Education rules. One is meant to improve oversight of the schools that receive taxpayer education dollars by involving state authorities in combating waste, fraud, and abuse. Another sets a threshold of 35 percent of graduates actively repaying loans in order for schools to continue receiving federal funds. For-profit schools might struggle to meet that threshold. The credit hour rule would prevent online schools, for example, from telling the government they’ve provided an hour of educational value while actually spending far less time on students.
Foxx’s comments, which can be viewed in full at the 42:00 mark of this video, make perfect sense given her connections to for-profit education. Foxx receives substantial campaign support from the for-profit education companies that would stand to gain from eliminating the federal government’s role in higher education. The industry has given over $68,000 to Foxx during her political career. Like Chairman John Kline (R-MN), who racked up $116,000 in for-profit education contributions in just the second quarter of this year, Foxx’s role on the Education and the Workforce Committee makes her a natural target for industry money.
Yet because for-profit schools are heavily reliant on federal financial aid funds and are being investigated in more than 32 states and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for misleading students or defrauding federal education programs, activists say it makes sense to regulate these universities.
Despite Foxx’s accusations of federal meddling, the government currently spends less on education and job training, as a percentage of overall spending, than it did in 1970. Oversight of those limited dollars through the rules Foxx opposes is just one piece of fixing that problem. Because investing in education boosts the country’s prosperity in the long-run, many support policies that would make government educational spending more generous.