WASHINGTON, D.C. | September 12, 2012 -
This hearing comes at an appropriate time as the debate over rising college costs rightly continues to garner national attention. President Obama has traveled the country in recent months promising students and families that his administration is working to lower college costs. This past weekend, the president told an audience in Florida “millions of students are paying less for college today” thanks to federal actions.
But contrary to the president’s comments, the College Board’s Trends in College Pricing shows published in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions have increased 25 percent over the last three years, from $6,591 during the 2008-2009 academic year to $8,244 last year. Similar trends can be seen in private and two-year degree programs.
Clearly the rhetoric doesn’t match reality. In an effort to find real solutions to the college cost dilemma, the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training has held hearings to explore ways states and institutions can help keep college within reach for students. More importantly, we have seen how federal intervention in higher education, no matter how well intentioned, often leads to additional institutional expenses – costs that trickle down to students in the form of higher tuition and fees.
Today we are here to discuss actions by President Obama’s National Labor Relations Board that would not only infringe upon academic freedom, but could also have serious implications for college costs. As my colleague Dr. Roe mentioned, the NLRB has a reputation for advancing expensive, job destroying changes to federal labor policies that undermine the rights of workers and employers. And just as the NLRB’s Specialty Healthcare decision and ambush elections scheme threaten to make it more expensive to run a business and restrict employee choice, the board’s efforts to expand authority over private postsecondary institutions would make it more difficult for colleges to offer a quality education at an affordable price.
Should the NLRB succeed in its attempts to expand Big Labor’s influence over faculty at private institutions, a host of potential consequences could arise. A proliferation of union contracts on college campuses would severely limit an institution’s flexibility, potentially putting union bosses in charge of everything from how professors are evaluated for tenure to the subject matter and number of courses each faculty member may teach.
Costly labor disputes would severely strain institutions’ budgets, leading to a dramatic rise in legal or other expenses, less diverse course offerings, and, again, tuition increases.
Above all, the NLRB’s activism in America’s higher education system would have a detrimental effect on students, who, in addition to costlier tuition, would likely face reduced academic opportunities. I am particularly concerned about the board’s efforts to promote the unionization of graduate student assistants. The opportunity to work as a graduate assistant is priceless – students get to spend one-on-one time with their professors, assist on special projects, and develop important relationships and references that will serve them well when they begin looking for a career – all while earning a little extra money to put toward tuition and living expenses.
For years, the NLRB recognized that graduate students have a primarily educational, not economic, relationship with their respective universities. Their responsibility, as students, is to learn and complete their degree. The costs and uncertainty associated with a proliferation of unionization among graduate students could force institutions to curb or even shut down graduate student assistant programs.
In closing, I would like to reiterate that we all share the goal of helping to ensure more students have access to an affordable postsecondary education. Congress has a responsibility to closely monitor federal actions that might hamper that goal by contributing to the problem of soaring tuition and even compromising education quality. I look forward to a productive discussion with our witnesses.
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