New law aims to cut college costs

The University lobbied for the comprehensive higher education bill signed into law by President George W. Bush last month that will make sweeping changes to universities across the country.

The measure, the first full overhaul of the Higher Education Act in 10 years, was designed to control the cost of earning a degree by regulating textbook distributors and private loans, as well as creating incentives for states to boost investment in higher education.

“The reauthorization legislation was long overdue,” University spokeswoman Tracy Schario wrote in an e-mail.

She indicated that the bill’s most direct impact on students would be “tightening up the marketing and the ethics (regulations on private lenders) to make sure that students have an opportunity to understand the lending environment.”

Over the past year, GW spent time and money lobbying for and against certain provisions of the bill. Last spring, representatives from GW’s Office of Government Relations met with staffers in the office of Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Penn., to discuss the University’s opposition to a stipulation that would require schools to beef up the reporting of tuition rates and aid allocation.

“GW opposes, along with many other colleges and universities, new reporting and disclosure requirements that create costly unfunded mandates,” Schario said.

The University spent less than $5,000 in lobbying for issues surrounding the bill, according to lobbying disclosures released last spring. The school is not required to report a specific amount unless it spends more than $5,000, and Schario would not say exactly how much was spent.

“GW primarily relies on the legislative work of membership organizations, such as the American Council on Education and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, to lobby on federal higher education policy legislation,” Schario said.

Although at least one provision of the reauthorization that University opposed has been signed into law, Schario said University officials were “pleased with the final bill.”

The University has been at the forefront of discussions on the rising cost of higher education since becoming the first school in the U.S. to breach the $50,000 mark for average cost of total enrollment expenses in 2007.

Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., who works regularly on higher education legislation and supported last month’s bill, noted in an interview with The Hatchet that private college costs in the United States have risen 60 percent since 2000.

Israel, a GW alumnus, spent his final undergraduate years in Foggy Bottom, but he was prevented from coming to D.C. earlier because of costs. He attended Long Island Community College and Syracuse University before graduating from GW in 1983.

“I went through what too many American families go through every day,” Israel said. “I couldn’t afford – and my parents couldn’t afford – the tuition, even in 1979,”

Israel’s said his two daughters, one of which he said had a strong interest in GW, faced similar cost-driven limitations in choosing a school.

Israel’s older daughter is a senior at the State University of New York in Albany, and the younger is a freshman at Green Mountain College in Vermont.

“I make a pretty good living as a member of Congress,” Israel said. “But I would have had a very hard time paying my older daughter’s education (if she had chosen GW).”

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