By:  Michael Stratford
Source: Politico Pro

Scott seeks a sweeping higher education law, not 'narrow compromise'

Rep. Bobby Scott

“One thing I hope we don’t do is a narrow compromise just to get something passed,” Rep. Bobby Scott said.Getty Images

Rep. Bobby Scott, the chairman of the House education committee, said Thursday that he’s not interested in striking a “narrow compromise” to update federal higher education policy this year but instead wants a broader approach to tackle college costs and expand protections for students.

Scott (D-Va.), speaking at an event hosted by Inside Higher Ed and Gallup, outlined his goals for reauthorizing the Higher Education Act as his Republican counterpart, Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, makes a renewed push to finish that work by the end of the year.

He said, for instance, that there’s bipartisan agreement to simplify some federal financial aid programs, which is a key component of Alexander’s approach. However, Scott said that any bill “must go beyond simplification and transparency in addressing the rising costs of higher education.”

“One thing I hope we don’t do is a narrow compromise just to get something passed,” Scott said. “The opportunity to reauthorize the Higher Education Act comes only once a decade and we can’t waste this opportunity by passing a bill that only changes things on the margins.”

“We need long overdue structural reforms to student aid programs,” Scott said, adding that any bill should create incentives for states to boost spending on public higher education and allow for tuition-free community college.

Scott said that Congress should “increase, not decrease” state and federal oversight of higher education, especially “bad actors in the for-profit industry”. He was largely critical of Republican efforts to scale back federal rules and requirements on colleges.

“While some deregulation might be warranted to account for the changing landscape in higher education, deregulation just for deregulation’s sake is not a worthy goal,” Scott said. “Congress must protect taxpayers and students from low-quality schools by restricting their access to federal student aid.”

Scott was also critical of proposals, which have been offered by Alexander and some Democrats, to penalize colleges if a low percentage of their graduates don’t successfully repay their federal loans.

Such proposals are “not a priority for me,” Scott said, adding that he worried that they would disadvantage schools that serve many low-income and first-generation students.

“I don’t want to get into a situation where you are measuring the demographics of the student body rather than the quality of the education,” Scott said.

In addition, Scott said that college accreditors need to “step up and do a better job” of addressing the cost of college and overseeing “the appropriateness of the price” that colleges charge students.

“Some institutions charge breathtaking tuition for marginal programs,” he said, adding that “the accreditors ought to draw the line and help us on that.”

Scott praised the “optimism” in the Democratic-held House and the GOP-controlled Senate about passing a new higher education law. But he noted there was “significant difference” in the House between how Republicans and Democrats are seeking to overhaul the Higher Education Act.

“We have a long road ahead,” he said.