Reformed Education Act Targets Student Fees, Loans, Downloading

This story was written by Lalitha Madduri, Daily Bruin
The House of Representatives proposed changes and additions to the Higher Education Act last Friday that will affect students in many areas, including illegal downloading, student fees, accreditation practices and student loans.

The Higher Education Act is due for renewal and any legislation enacted will determine higher education policy for the next five years. The bill was originally created in 1965 to strengthen educational resources available to colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance to students.

The Senate passed its version of the bill in July. The House proposed its initial version of the bill last week, which was marked up in the Education Committee on Wednesday.

A change that will directly impact students is the crackdown on illegal downloading within the proposed legislation. It requires institutions to educate their students on policies regarding copyright infringement on campus networks. It also requires that colleges eligible for federal financial aid under Title IV, a section of the Higher Education Act that defines all federal loans available to students, to develop a plan for offering alternatives to illegal downloading,

"About 44 percent of domestic piracy losses nationwide, over $500 million, are due to college students," said Kori Bernard, a spokeswoman for the Motion Picture Association of America, which supports the legislation.

"We are requesting minimally invasive efforts to reduce piracy on college campuses," Bernard added.

Educause, a nonprofit organization concerned with proper technology use in higher education, called the second portion of the legislation "unacceptable," according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

"These provisions of the bill are misdirected at higher education," said Steven Worona, Educause director of policy and networking programs.

Most infringement by college students occurs on commercial networks that are not associated with their college. Less than 4 percent of infringers are using college campus networks and therefore account for no more than 9 percent of the losses. The statistic that attributes 44 percent of piracy to college campuses is both misleading and false, Worona said.

"Campuses are already attacking this problem as aggressively as possible. The source of the problem should be targeted and that's not higher education," Worona said.

In their separate proposals, both the Senate and the House agreed on modifications to the act, including allowing the Secretary of Education to establish a Higher Education Price Index in order to identify colleges whose tuition and fees are unusually high and place them on a watch list.

The House went beyond the Senate, mandating that colleges on the watch list submit a report explaining the reasons for their unusually high fees, and outlining steps that will be taken to prevent future increases in fees, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

To create further incentives to prevent fee increases, the House also proposed offering additional grant money to colleges that restrained their tuition growth, said Rachel Racusen, spokeswoman for Representative George Miller of California, who is chairman of the House Education and Labor committee. States would also be punished for cutting their higher education budgets.

"States that fail to meet the mandated standards would risk losing these funds," Racusen said. States faced with fiscal difficulties would be eligible for a waiver from the Secretary of Education.

"To expand college access to millions of students and families and to ensure that our higher education system operates in the best interest of helping students attend and pay for college is a top priority of Miller's office," Racusen said.

Congress is aso addressing is the 90-10 rule, which requires career colleges, which provide vocational educations, to receive at least 10 percent of their revenue from sources other than federal student aid in order to be eligible for the financial aid benefits of Title IV.

"A minority of these schools were diploma mills that took advantage of students and were not legitimate institutions," said Harris N. Miller, chairman of the Career College Association.

Currently, these institutions are subject to stringent accreditation requirements. At the same time, their student population has grown from about 2 percent of higher education students in 1995, to about 10 percent today, Miller said.

The new legislation modifies the act to broaden the sources that can comprise the 10 percent of non-governmental funding to include scholarships and existing short-term educational programs.

Miller said he is optimistic that the resulting bill will remove unnecessary restrictions.

"Schools are being forced to artificially raise tuition to meet the 10 percent standard, creating a situation where tuition is being raised only to meet bureaucratic requirements," Miller said.

In terms of accreditation, both the Senate and the House aim to hold colleges more responsible for evidence of student achievement and to make accreditation practices more transparent, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

"Almost 40 percent of students that receive degrees from traditional school have transferred from one college to another, but many schools are ripping off their students by forcing them to take the same classes twice," Miller said.

Colleges have adopted voluntary policies stating that the source of accreditation should not be the sole basis for an applicant's rejection, but blatant violations of these self-imposed rules are frequent, Miller said.

The bill requires that accreditation practices be made publicly available.

"This is a partial victory, and a major step forward," Miller said.

The proposed legislation also attempts to reduce student expenditures by revamping student loan practices. The Senate and the House are aiming to reduce conflicts of interest within the student loan industry between lenders and colleges by outlawing questionable practices and increasing transparency, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Colleges that recommend preferred lenders must include at least three unaffiliated providers for government-backed loans and two other providers for private lenders. In addition, annual reports justifying choices and criteria for selections must be submitted to the Secretary of Education.

Revenue-sharing between colleges and lenders, and "co-branding," or allowing lenders to use a college's mascot in marketing materials, will be banned under the new legislation.

A top priority of Rep. George Miller's office is to make information available to students and their families to help them understand the financial opportunities available to them, spokeswoman Racusen said.
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