New Higher Ed Bill To Restrict Downloads

This story was written by Kate Benner & Sam Fox Krauss, The Daily Princetonian
The long process of reauthorizing the Higher Education Act came closer to completion yesterday when the House Committee on Education and Labor unanimously approved a version of the bill that could soon be voted on by the whole House, possibly in December.

The act expired at the end of 2006 and, after a year of hearings and debates, seems close to being renewed. The Senate passed its reauthorization in July with a unanimous vote, approving a bill that expands aid for college students and sets in place federal higher education policy for the next five years.

One provision of the bill requires colleges to help curb illegal peer-to-peer filesharing. There was no discussion of this provision during the markup of the bill in committee this week, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported.

Under the provision, the Secretary of Education would create a list of the 25 universities whose networks are responsible for the most illegal downloads. These universities would then be responsible for taking measures to crack down on the illegal sharing on campus.

"We have an overall concern with Congress stepping into this area when the higher education community is working with RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America] and the Motion Picture Association for an appropriate response," said Joyce Rechtschaffen '75, the University's director of government affairs.

In a Nov. 7 letter to committee chairman George Miller (D-Calif.), the presidents of several universities, including Stanford and Penn State, decried the illegal download provision. "The proposal would mandate a completely inappropriate role for the Secretary of Education to single out individual institutions based on information under the control of the entertainment industry," the letter said.

If passed, the bill would require schools to consider "technology-based deterrents."

"There is a lot of debate about whether that technology would be effective," computer science professor Ed Felten said. Additionally, colleges are encouraged to consider alternatives to illegal peer-to-peer sharing. The University has already tried to curb illegal downloads by subscribing to Ruckus, a music download service available to Windows users.

Among the revisions to the bill was Rush Holt's (D-N.J.) creation of the position of assistant secretary for international and foreign language education in the Department of Education. Holt, whose district includes Princeton, is the former assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab.

"[Holt] feels that we don't do enough foreign language education," Zach Goldberg, the congressman's communication director, said in an interview with The Daily Princetonian. The provision establishes grants for partnerships between universities and school districts to promote foreign language learning.

The bill would also change the Pell Grant program, a need-based federal postsecondary grant program, by making funds available year-round. It added a provision that rewards colleges who restrict their tuition growth with additional Pell Grant funding. Nine percent of Princeton students receive Pell Grants.

"[The revision to the Pell Grant program] makes a really good effort at making college more affordable," Goldberg said.

In an effort to combat tuition increases, the secretary of education would be tasked with issuing a list of universities ranked by the tuition and other fees they charge and would have to place universities whose tuition outpaces the "higher-education price index" on a "watch list."

Rechtschaffen said she does not think the provision will affect Princeton, saying "we don't think that we will be raising tuition above that threshold."

The bill would require colleges tocompile statistics on tuition and graduation rates and to publish the figures on the University and College Accountability Network website, based on a site by that name launched last September by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Princeton already provides data to the website.

"This [measure] clearly represents Congress' desire to give students more information on financial aid," Rechtschaffen said.

© 2007 The Daily Princetonian via U-WIRE