House Committee on Education and Labor
U.S. House of Representatives

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon
Ranking Member

Fiscally responsible reforms for students, workers and retirees.



Floor Statement

July 31, 2008

CONTACT: Alexa Marrero
(202) 225-4527

McKeon Statement: Conference Report to H.R. 4137, the “Higher Education Opportunity Act”

Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the Higher Education Opportunity Act and I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, it took us five long years to get here today, on the cusp of the first comprehensive renewal of federal higher education programs in a decade. And I’m here to tell you that sometimes what they say is true – good things do come to those who wait.

I want to begin by thanking Chairman Miller along with Representatives Hinojosa and Keller, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, for their efforts.  The four of us have worked as equal partners in this endeavor, not always agreeing but never losing sight of our shared commitment to making higher education in this country more accessible, affordable, and accountable.  Representative Castle has also been a close partner of mine in the effort to rein in college costs, and I want to recognize him for his commitment.  Of course, the House did not do this alone.  Senator Kennedy and Senator Enzi have worked equally hard, and I want to thank them and recognize their efforts.  Although Senator Kennedy was not able to be here in Washington for our conference meeting, he has had a profound impact on the legislation and he remains in our thoughts.

We know how important higher education is, both to individuals and to our nation.  A college degree can be a ticket to the middle class.  It helps individuals prepare for good jobs, and it allows them to pursue new skills in a changing economy.  Higher education also has important societal benefits.  College-educated citizens are healthier, more civically-involved, have lower unemployment rates, and use fewer government benefits.  An educated citizenry is also vital to maintaining our competitive edge in a changing world.

Because higher education is so important, we have made it a priority to ensure all Americans have access to a quality, affordable college education.  In addition to making close to $100 billion in financial aid available to students, the federal government also spends billions each year on aid to institutions, support for college access programs, investments in research and development, and many other avenues that support higher education.

Despite the considerable federal investment – or perhaps, in part, because of it – colleges and universities have increased tuition and fees year in and year out.  The increases have come in good economic times and in bad, whether enrollments are surging or holding steady.  It seems the only thing consistent about college costs is that they’re going up, and fast.

With this bill, we hope to change that.  Our principles for reform are based on the idea that by giving good information to consumers, we can empower them to exert influence on the marketplace.  Through the power of sunshine and transparency, we are lifting the veil on college costs and holding institutions of higher learning accountable for their role in the cost equation.

Those principles of sunshine and transparency are hallmarks of this bill, and not just in the area of college costs.  We’re also letting the sun shine in on college operations and quality through enhanced institutional disclosure and a more transparent accreditation process.

There are numerous positive reforms in this bill.  Too many even for me to name.

Of course, it’s not a perfect bill.  No bill is.  I’m particularly concerned about the number of new programs created in the Conference Report.  Rather than trying to micromanage from Washington by creating a brand new program for every possible contingency, we should focus on less red tape and greater local flexibility.

However, on the whole, this bill is an achievement of persistence and commitment.  It updates programs to meet the needs of students in the 21st Century; it recognizes the value of for-profit institutions of higher education; it promotes distance education, a mode of delivery that becomes more important everyday as gas prices force students to limit their commuting to and from school; and it uses the power of sunshine and transparency to transform all aspects of our higher education system.  Above all else, this bill offers real solutions to the college cost crisis.

I thank members on both sides of the aisle for their commitment to this cause, and I reserve the balance of my time.