US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Alexander: Senate Should “Start From Scratch” on Higher Education Act

Says previous authorizations of the law have “taken new well-intentioned ideas and just piled them on top of the existing well-intentioned ideas”

Thursday, September 19, 2013Liz Wolgemuth 202-228-4729

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"Let’s write a new law…not as an ideological exercise but simply in the way that someone would weed a garden before planting a new crop.” – Lamar Alexander

WASHINGTON, Sept. 19—The senior Republican on the U.S. Senate education committee said today that the committee should “start from scratch” on a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said: “Let’s write a new law—repeal the old law and have new regulations written with our oversight, not as an ideological exercise but simply in the way that someone would weed a garden before planting a new crop. Because we all know what happens – during the previous eight authorizations, we have new well-intentioned ideas, we just pile them on top of the existing well-intentioned ideas.”

Today’s hearing—the first in the series of hearings on reauthorization of Higher Education Act—was on the “Triad,” a name for the three requirements of accreditation, state authorization, and federal eligibility, which colleges and universities must meet in order to participate in the federal student aid program.

Alexander said to today’s hearing witnesses from the higher education community: “We have to do this together or it wouldn’t work.”

Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, a witness at today’s hearing, told Alexander: “I think that’s the only reasonable way for you to proceed, with respect to the Triad. …The Triad, part H of the Higher Education Act of Title IV, has attracted new requirements like a ship passing through the ocean attracts barnacles. And we sometimes get away from what the central purposes are and what we’re really trying to accomplish.”

In his opening remarks today, Alexander said the higher education system “is like the American automobile industry of the 1970s. First, it offers a remarkable number of choices of the best products in the world at a reasonable cost.  Second, it is not doing much about challenges that will require major adjustments if, 20 years from now, it wants to be able to make that same claim of superior choices at a reasonable cost.”

He added: “Let’s face it: one of the greatest obstacles to innovation has become— us, the federal government. I voted against the last Higher Education Act authorization in 2008 because it would add a stack of regulations as high as I am tall—and that would have come on top of a stack already that tall. This stack of regulations is not the result of evil doers. It is simply the piling up of well-intentioned laws and regulations carrying them out without anyone spending an equal amount of time weeding the garden first.”

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