“Sloppy” red tape requirements costing universities millions

“If all of us created this mess, then it is up to all of us to fix it,” said the Senator.

Roughly four years ago, four members of the committee—two Democrats and two Republicans—asked a group of “distinguished” educators [including Vanderbuilt University Chancellor Nick Zeppos and University System of Maryland Chancellor Brit Kirwan] to examine the current state of federal rules and regulations for colleges and universities. The committee asked them not just to detail the problem, but to give specific solutions.

These recommendations are included in a document, titled “Recalibrating Regulation of Colleges and Universities,” in which the educators outline 59 specific regulations, requirements and areas for Congress and the Department of Education to consider —listing 10 especially problematic regulations.

In their own words, America’s 6,000 colleges and universities live in a “jungle of red tape” that is expensive and confusing and unnecessary, and that consumer information that is too complicated to understand is worthless.

“Colleges must report the amount of foreign gifts they receive; disclose the number of fires drills that occurred on campus,” said Sen. Alexander. “’Gainful employment’ disclosures require 30 different pieces of information for each academic program subject to the regulation.”

He also said that when a student withdraws from college before a certain time period, a student’s federal money must be returned to the government—a simple concept. Yet, the regulations and guidance need for implementation are complex: 200 paragraphs of regulatory text accompanied by 200 pages in the Federal Student Aid handbook.

For example, the University of Colorado reports that they have two full-time staff devoted to this issue: One to do the calculation and the other to recheck the other’s work. Ohio State University estimates that it spends around $200,000 annually on compliance for this regulation.

Institutions offering distance education are also subject to an additional set of bureaucracy that can result in additional costs of $500,000 to a million dollars for compliance, notes the Report.

“All of these are examples of colleges and universities spending time and money on compliance with federal rules and not on students,” noted the Senator. “Senator Murray and I will discuss how to develop a bipartisan process to take full advantage of the recommendations in this Report and to include many of them in reauthorization of the High Education Act, which we plan to do this year.”

Sen. Alexander said he and Sen. Murray will schedule additional hearings to gather comment on the Report from institutions not directly involved with the report and consumers of higher education, including parents, students, and taxpayers. Some of the recommendations require a change in the law, but many can be fixed by the Department itself, he explained.

“I have talked with Secretary Duncan more than once about this effort and he is eager to do his part to solve the problem,” he concluded. “I look forward to working with him and with President Obama on eliminating unnecessary red tape, saving students money, and removing unnecessary regulatory obstacles to innovation in the best system of higher education in the world.”

Material from a statement was used in this report.

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