Affordability in Higher Education Act
March 3, 2004
This trend, if allowed to continue unchecked, will have a
devastating effect on students, families and the nation as a whole.
in Higher Education Act, authored by Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon
(R-CA), would address the rising cost of postsecondary education by holding
institutions accountable for cost increases, and empowering students and
parents with the information they need to fully exercise their power as
consumers in the higher education marketplace. The bill moves past
the rhetoric and provides reforms which will put students and families first.
The Affordability in Higher
Education Act seeks to make information about cost increases publicly
available and understandable, and to work with institutions to help implement
plans to increase college affordability.
Postsecondary education is more important in today’s
knowledge-based workplace than at any other time in our nation’s history.
And as students and families struggle to afford skyrocketing tuition
increases, it is more critical than ever before that the consumers of higher
education have access to adequate information about the cost of college.
Yet all too often, students and families do not have all the
information they need as they navigate the complexities of our higher
education system. The Affordability
in Higher Education Act will empower consumers by providing them with
access to easily understandable information about the cost of college.
The bill establishes a “College Affordability Index,” a
standard measure by which the consumers of higher education can understand
and compare tuition increases in real terms.
The College Affordability Index is simply determined by comparing
tuition and fee increases over a three year period to increases in the
rate of inflation over that same time period.
Using data already being reported by colleges and universities, the
U.S. Department of Education will make information about college costs,
including the College Affordability Index, publicly available through a
Unfair Barriers to Students Transferring Credits
With recent data showing that more than 50 percent of
students attend multiple institutions of higher education, it has become
increasingly important that students have the flexibility they need to
transfer their credits among institutions. Students who are prohibited from
transferring from one eligible institution to another for reasons considered
to be territorial or political are faced with the additional costs of
repeated course work and extended time to completion.
This legislation does NOT mandate what course work must be
accepted by any institution. It
simply states that the agency or association that accredited the institution
must not be the sole reason course work is not accepted for transfer.
The course work must be evaluated on its own merits, and not based
simply on the accreditor. In
addition, the bill will require that institutions make their transfer of
credit policies available to the public.
The Affordability in
Higher Education Act was crafted as an effort to explore potential
solutions to the college cost crisis, and seeks to proactively assist
institutions as they seek innovative strategies that will help keep college
affordable. For that reason, the bill also institutes a new College
Affordability Demonstration Program. The
demonstration program will allow participating institutions to implement
innovative strategies in their delivery of financial aid and education to
for College Costs
Because institutions are already reporting costs data that
will be made available to the public, consumer empowerment will be the most
immediate result of the Affordability
in Higher Education Act. However,
the bill also adds new accountability for dramatic cost increases.
Providing institutions with
ample time to meet the challenge of affordability, beginning
in 2008 colleges and universities will be held accountable for college
Affordability Index scores that exceed 2.0.
Simply stated, if an institution increases its tuition and fees
more than two times the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for an interval of three
years, it warrants additional attention.
Beginning in 2008, institutions with an Affordability Index
above 2.0 must provide the following information to the U.S. Department of
Education: (1) An explanation of the factors contributing to the increase in
the institution’s costs and in tuition and fees charged to students; (2) A
management plan stating the steps the institution is and will be taking to
reduce its college Affordability Index; and (3) An action plan, with a
schedule, by which the institution will maintain or reduce increases in such
costs and tuition and fees. Because
consumers should have access to the steps institutions are taking to improve
affordability, management plans will also be made available to the public.
Recognizing that some institutions do not control the tuition
and fees charged, the state or other body that does set tuition must be
involved in addressing the above requirements and in creation of the
institution’s management plan.
If the institution fails to comply with its own management
plan after two academic years, additional action will be taken that includes
the requirement of a detailed accounting of all costs and expenditures.
That information will be made
available to the public, and the institution will be placed in “cost
affordability alert” status.
Recognition of low-cost
schools at the forefront of affordability in higher education.
While significant tuition increases and high college costs
appear to be the norm, they are not unavoidable. In fact, a number of
institutions have worked for years to keep higher education affordable for
their students. The
Affordability in Higher Education Act
recognizes that low-cost institutions may be disproportionately impacted by
the College Affordability Index, and for that reason, provides an exemption
for these institutions which have clearly made affordability a priority.
The bill would provide an exemption from participation in the
requirements of the bill other than determination of the Affordability Index
for: (1) Institutions determined to be low-cost, defined as the least costly
one-quarter of institutions in their sector; and (2) Institutions whose
Affordability Index exceeds 2.0, but does so by less than $500.
The General Accounting Office (GAO) will establish and
publish a list of institutions that reduce their college Affordability Index
score and conduct a study of the policies and procedures implemented by those
institutions increasing the affordability of postsecondary education.
That information will be
compiled and used to assist in the determination of best practices in
extending affordable education to students across the country.
the Burden on Institutions: Reducing Unnecessary Regulations
A final consideration in the legislation is the need to
reduce administrative and regulatory burdens.
There has been a
long-standing effort to reduce unnecessary regulations for both institutions
and students. In an effort to
assist in streamlining the HEA and reducing the costs of administering the
student aid programs, the FED UP process was developed.
Regulations have been reduced
and made more efficient through this process and this legislation encourages
states to participate in the effort. A
Sense of Congress in this legislation requests states and the Department of
Education to consider, in consultation with institutions, the burden and
costs associated with new regulation prior to implementation.