Report: Federal regulations create 'unreasonable' costs for colleges, universities

Senate education chair will take findings into account while reauthorizing Higher Education Act

A new American Council on Education (ACE) report suggests that federal regulations snare colleges and universities in "a jungle of red tape" that ends up being costly and confusing, Kelly Field writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The ACE report, created for a Congressional task force, suggested paring back on the "unnecessarily voluminous and too often ambiguous" regulations, often accompanied by "unreasonable" costs.

The report will help guide the Senate education committee's reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, says Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee). The committee will hold a hearing regarding the report's recommendations later this month.

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Created in November 2013, the task force is made up of 16 current and former college lobbyists and leaders who commissioned three policy reports, met with representatives from about 60 institutions, and met four times overall. They were tasked with finding specific ways to streamline both the rule-making process and the rules themselves.

Trimming the regulations will "allow colleges to spend more of their time and money educating students, instead of filing out mountains of paperwork," says Alexander.

Financial cost of regulations

Catholic University of America estimated in 2008 that higher education institutions face about 200 federal regulations. But the number is higher now—more regulations were added in 2009 as part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Altogether, it takes college officials 26.1 million hours annually to complete documents for the Department of Education, according to an American Action Forum report. 

While the report acknowledges the important, significant roles the rules play, it also argues "heavy handed and poorly designed regulations" can result in enormous costs for schools. And although the report does not offer a standard method of calculation costs of regulation, it provides a few schools' estimations of their own, which ranged from Hartwick College's $300,000 per year to Vanderbilt University's $150 million per year.

Cautions against additional rules

The report knocks the Department of Education's newest regulations, which did not come from Congress, citing "possible overreach" and indifference to "the regulatory burden [the department] imposes."

As examples, the task force points to the 945-page "gainful-employment rule," 300-page Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting, and 300-pages of surveys that form the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

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Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), also on the education committee, more bluntly called it a "never-ending addiction" to federal regulations.

Meanwhile, the officials at the Department of Education "are reviewing the report's recommendations and look forward to working with Congress on behalf of the best interests of students and taxpayers," according to a spokesperson (Field, Chronicle of Higher Education, 2/13).

The takeaway: A new report finds that many federal regulations are forcing colleges and universities to incur "unreasonable" costs of compliance. Sn. Lamar Alexander, chair of the Senate education committee, says the findings will guide the reauthorization process of the Higher Education Act.

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