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would count against the nonprofit’s
debt-to-income ratio.The nonprofit
universities and colleges were so
worried about this that they got
rule-makers to revise the measure in
order to avoid it.
“Be careful what you ask for,”
HarrisMiller joked. “Youmight get
it.”
Kanter defends the regulations
as consumer protections. “We’ve
made great strides on the access
side, but we have a lot more to
accomplish to ensure that students
are earning that first-class education
that is a hallmark of America,” she
said. “Higher education will always
be suspicious of anything the federal
government does, and certainly
there are legitimate concerns. But
we’ve got tomeasure progress.”
What nonprofits and for-profits
dislike equally about Obama’s
higher education strategy is its
shift toward greater federal oversight of what they do.That’s
at the heart of tension that has wilted the initial enthusiasm
for the new president from the same university associations
that worked to stifle calls for more accountability in higher
education, including a national student database, by the
Commission on the Future of Higher Education, known as
the Spellings Commission, during Bush’s term. While they
welcome the boost in Pell grant funding and other strategies
of the new administration, saidHartle, “That doesn’t mean
we automatically love everything they do.They also have
demonstrated a willingness to impose more federal control
than I think is necessarily desirable.”
Harris Miller is less nuanced about the way he thinks
nonprofit universities have grown to regardObama: “While
Bush was in theWhite House and Spellings was in theWhite
House, they thought, ‘Jeez, if we can just wait these people out
and hold on until the Democrats get back in, all this pressure
will disappear,” saidMiller, whose own sector was—justifiably,
as it turned out—under no such illusion. “But, no, Barack
Obama shows up, and (Education Secretary) Arne Duncan
shows up, and they’re of the same mindset, and the governors
are of the same mindset,” that American higher education, as
the global stakes increase, should be held accountable for its
results.
In this regard, the universities aren’t up against only the
president. Legislators, governors, and tuition-paying students
and their parents, too, want more accountability, in a growing
movement unlikely to be discouraged by endless stalling. “That
pressure’s not going away,” said Alisa Federico Cunningham,
vice president of research and programs at the Institute for
Higher Education Policy. “Higher education has not yet
totally adjusted to the fact that the country—the taxpayers, the
parents, everybody—has decided that a little bit of luster has
faded from the higher education system,” saidHarris Miller.
“The way to regain that luster and credibility is not to pound
the table and say, ‘We’ve been around for 800 years and we
know best,’ but to accept the idea that, because you do have
somuchmoney involved, that taxpayers are entitled to ask
legitimate questions about what they’re getting for their money.”
A few universities and university associations are already
voluntarily publishing some outcomes information to avoid
being forced to do it. “They’re trying to head off any federal
intrusion in this area by self-policing,” said DonaldHeller,
director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education
at Pennsylvania State University. “They’re going to fight
tooth and nail to avoid the federal government telling them
what information they have tomake available. It’s a 350-
year tradition of autonomy they don’t want to give up.The
public institutions say they’re already heavily controlled and
regulated by their states, and that it’s in the best interest of their
students for them tomake those decisions, not for the federal
government to do it.”
But the Obama administration already is doing it, with
new rules covering the definition of a credit hour that puts the
government not only on the campus, but in the classroom.
It’s another Bush initiative the universities had hoped would
go away, and another example of a rule aimed at for-profit
universities that has spilled over into the nonprofit sector. And
it follows yet more bad press, this time about the accreditation
of a for-profit online school called American InterContinental
University, by the Higher Learning Commission of the
North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, in spite
of questions about the value of an unusually large number of
credits awarded for unusually short courses.That prompted
House Education Committee Chairman GeorgeMiller to
demand a standard definition of a credit hour to ensure that
students and taxpayers get their money’s worth.The Education
Department has since responded by proposing that one credit
hour should be equal to at least one hour of instruction plus
two hours of
preparation per
week, though
institutions
would be left to
determine what
“reasonably
approximates”
that measure.
“They’re
almost starting
to take the next
step—that the
government tells
the educators how
to educate,” said
WilliamZumeta,
a professor of
public affairs
and education at
the University of
Washington and
president of the
Association for the
Study of Higher
“Jobs in today’s economy require more
than just vocational training,” says Debra
Humphreys, vice president of the American
Association of Colleges and Universities,
which advocates for the liberal arts.
Dennis Brack, Black Star, for CrossTalk
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” says
Martha Kanter, U.S. undersecretary of
education. “Like everyone in this country,
we have to do more with less.”