Higher Ed Act may add more costs for KSU

Ben Wolford

Even though Congress passed the Higher Education Act July 31, its effects on Kent State could still be a year away.

“The passing of the legislation is only the first step,” said Connie Hawke, Kent State’s director of federal relations.

If President George Bush signs the act, the next several steps will determine how to implement it. The act sets policy on higher education topics such as financial aid, reporting and accreditation.

Meanwhile, Kent State’s administration is readying for the cost of the new measures.

“Is it going to be an additional burden on the administration? Absolutely,” Hawke said. “Does that (new measures) always translate into additional costs? Yes.”

Kent State’s bind – and the bind of Ohio’s public institutions – is the current freeze on tuition. The question of how much money will come from the state in the coming years is another factor.

“If our state subsidy doesn’t increase,” Hawke said, “how do we meet those additional costs?”

One provision, for example, calls for more reporting from colleges on an array of subjects – an “extraordinary number” of them, in the opinion of the American Council on Education.

It requires federal reporting on tuition and fees, alumni activities and fire safety, among others.

In an opinion letter to the Senate, the ACE questioned the bill’s encouragement of “colleges to hold down tuition charges,” and at the same time setting forth “numerous unfunded mandates.”

Kent State, though ahead of the curve in reporting on the state level, will see additional expenses from the new tasks, President Lester Lefton said.

“Somebody’s got to do the work,” he said. “So you figure a $40,000-a-year person, plus benefits. Maybe it’s going to take two people to do it. Somebody has to stay in touch with: ‘What are the federal regulations?’, ‘What are the forms?’, ‘How do I get the data?'”

On the academic front, the Higher Education Act keeps deciding college accreditation an independent process rather than one regulated by the U.S. Education Department.

“The federal government’s role in higher education has traditionally been limited to providing financial aid for students, not regulating higher education,” Hawke said. “(Lobbyists) don’t want (accreditation) to become a political football.”

The Higher Education Act has ramifications for students, too.

It requires textbook publishers to sell books and accompanying CDs separately, and it forces colleges to provide pricing information to students to help them find the best deal.

“By putting textbook information on the Web,” Hawke said, “people are going to maybe shop eBay or Amazon instead of going through the bookstores, which may cause the bookstores to be more reasonable with their markup on the book.”

Several financial aid provisions are also designed to help students by making aid more widely

available. The act:

n Sets the maximum Pell Grant award at $9,000 and makes the funds available during the summer, as well as during the traditional school year.

n Makes the Academic Competitiveness Grant available to part-time students and those seeking certificates, not just degrees.

n Expands the reach of the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, a body that advises Congress on student aid policy.

n Simplifies the process for qualifying for financial aid and makes information about students’ financial aid packages more easily available.

Contact principal reporter Ben Wolford at [email protected].