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Foxx Statement: H.R. 2117, the Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act

Today’s debate on the Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act affords us a valuable opportunity to discuss challenges facing our higher education system. There’s no denying the cost of college is skyrocketing. Last year, tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities increased 8.3 percent, even as inflation rose only by approximately three percent.

In recent months, students and families have urged Congress to take action on the issue of rising college costs. The administration has proposed several programs and initiatives that they claim will reduce student loan debt and rein in tuition. However, these initiatives only further entrench the federal government in the affairs of states and institutions. Rather than getting the federal government more involved in higher education, we can start by working together to remove harmful regulations that pile unnecessary financial burdens on colleges and universities.

The legislation before us today will eliminate two onerous regulations advanced by the Department of Education in October of 2010. The credit hour and state authorization regulations will restrict innovation, limit flexibility, and pave the way for additional federal overreach into higher education.

The state authorization regulation sets federal requirements states must follow to grant colleges and universities permission to operate within the state, infringing on a state’s ability to regulate in the way it chooses. For institutions that offer distance learning courses, this could mean meeting authorization requirements – and paying authorization fees – in all 50 states.

One online university reports the state authorization regulation could cost the institution $700,000 initially, plus an additional $400,000 required annually. Faced with this astronomical sum, the university could be forced to pass these costs along to students in the form of higher tuition or new fees, or discontinue academic programs in some states. Either way, students will be the victims of this harmful regulation.

Higher education officials are also crying foul over a regulation that establishes a federal definition of a credit hour. Last spring, Excelsior College President John Ebersole testified in front of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training about this regulation, stating it inserts the Department of Education into academic judgments that should be made at the institution level, and could destroy accelerated learning programs that allow students to complete their education more quickly.

As a result, students will have fewer opportunities to graduate early with a smaller loan burden, and schools will have less incentive to offer creative courses that promote learning outside the classroom.

H.R. 2117 recognizes there is a need for accountability and oversight as institutions define and apply credit hours for courses. The legislation leaves in place important protections that further outline the roles of states and accrediting agencies in reviewing colleges’ credit hour policies.

As we have seen many times before, onerous federal regulations always come with a price and that price is always paid by taxpayers who are in this case students or parents of students. It’s time to take a comprehensive view of the problems facing our nation’s higher education system and eliminate burdensome federal regulations that pile unnecessary costs on institutions and students.

I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join me in supporting the Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act.

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