Congress May Protect College Funding

This story was written by Lalitha Madduri, Daily Bruin
In an effort to address the rising costs of public education, Congress may begin to penalize states that cut funding for higher education.

In a congressional hearing last Thursday, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, spoke of amending the Higher Education Act to include provisions that would punish states that reduce funding for higher education, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Under this legislation, the secretary of education would be instructed to withhold administrative funds from states that reduce their higher-education budgets.

Rachel Racusen, a spokeswoman for the Committee on Education and Labor from Miller's office, said this is one of many options that will be explored.

"One of Chairman Miller's key goals is to address rising college prices, which could include working with colleges to rein in increases in tuition and other costs. He also believes more information about college pricing and factors driving increases must be made available to students and their families," Racusen said.

She said the committee is hoping to move forward as soon as possible and expects that legislation will be introduced within the month.

According to a report released by the College Board, student fees have increased by 31 percent nationally at four-year public universities over the last five years.

UC spokesman Ricardo Vasquez said a decline in state financial support for the University of California has had significant impact on the increases in student fees.

UC student fees for 2007-2008 school year increased by 7 percent, along with an additional temporary surcharge of $60 per student.

He added that in 1970, around 7 percent of the state General Fund was appropriated for the University of California. Today, this figure has dropped below 3 percent.

According to Vasquez, the drop in state funding is larger than it has ever been.

"If the state was currently funding as it did in 1990, then it would contribute an additional $2,470 per a student," Vasquez said.

The proposed bill would also include provisions that would hold colleges accountable for rising costs of higher education.

Kim Southard, legislative assistant to Rep. Ric Keller, R-Fla, said the provisions that may be taken to ensure that colleges take some responsibility for fee increases are unknown at this time.

Southard said Keller is wary of the real causes of rising education costs and is opposed to punishing states unnecessarily. She said the provisions would depend on what the infractions are that would trigger penalizations as well as how steep the punishments are.

She added that the committee will work to come up with a bipartisan bill as it has been doing in the past.

Based on the Nov. 1 hearing. Southard said she expects that most opposition to the bill will depend on why the fees are increasing.

Southard added that staff salary increases may be a point of contention in deliberations over the bill, since it may effect student fee increases.
© 2007 Daily Bruin via U-WIRE