Senator pledges to rewrite Higher Education Act this year

Calls burdensome regulations in higher education an 'embarrassment'

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R- Tennessee) said Tuesday that the Senate education committee would rewrite the Higher Education Act by the end of the year, with a focus on reducing the regulatory burden for colleges and universities, Inside Higher Ed reports.

Alexander, who heads the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), said he plans to hold hearings in April, have a draft of the law written by summer, and hold a vote sometime after the August recess. "We'll get it done this year," Alexander told reporters Tuesday.

Alexander also embraced the conclusions of a recent report prepared by the American Council on Education (ACE). The ACE report, created for a Congressional task force, suggested paring back on the "unnecessarily voluminous and too often ambiguous" regulations in higher education, which often are accompanied by "unreasonable" costs. Alexander on Tuesday said those regulations "should be an embarrassment to all of us in the federal government."

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

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington), the ranking Democrat on HELP, disagreed. "It would be a mistake to roll back important protections for faculty, students, and families," she said. Murray pointed specifically to Title IX regulations that relate to sexual assault as "core protections that provide students with a safe learning environment."

A coalition of 13 higher education industry groups released a statement Monday that also pushed back against the ACE report's conclusions. "While there are some recommendations in the report with which we agree, the report is by no means a consensus opinion among all higher education stakeholders," the groups wrote.

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Despite tension over the report, Alexander argued deregulation should not be a partisan issue. "Many of these recommendations are really neutral in their political effect," he said. Alexander added that he was "optimistic" that Republicans could work with the White House to rewrite the Higher Education Act. "We have some differences—like gainful employment, a few other things—but not as many in higher education" (Stratford, Inside Higher Ed, 2/25).

The takeaway:Lamar Alexander, the chair of the Senate Education committee announced Tuesday that he plans to hold a vote on a rewritten Higher Education Act by the end of 2015, while also signaling a major focus of the new law will be to scale back federal regulation of higher education.

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