In a committee meeting on Wednesday, Representative Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina) stated her belief that “it is not the role of the Congress to make college affordable and accessible.”
“The attitude of the Department of Education is that total control of our lives, especially education since that’s what we’re dealing with, should be done at the federal level,” Foxx continued.
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a bill—the Supporting Academic Freedom through Regulatory Relief Act (SAFRRA)—that would block three existing Department of Education rules. The measure was introduced on July 10 and is coauthored by Foxx. One of the rules is an attempt to improve oversight in schools that utilize taxpayer dollars by allowing state authorities to be involved in addressing waste, fraud, and abuse; another sets a threshold in which 35 percent of college graduates must be actively paying loans in order for the school to continue to receive federal funding. The third involves the creation of a credit hour that would prevent schools from reporting to the government that they have provided one hour of education when, in reality, less time is spent on students.
Critics of Foxx say that her affiliation with the for-profit education industry could be behind her support of the bill and her related comments. The representative receives substantial campaign support from for-profit education companies—companies that would, in turn, benefit from the bill’s blockage of the three Department of Education rules.
Although approximately 10 percent of college students are educated at for-profit colleges, nearly 50 percent of student loan defaults come from attendees of the same institutions. About 60 percent of for-profit colleges get over 70 percent of their revenue from federal funding. As such, these colleges could stand to lose a substantial amount of funding should the measure not pass and further regulations on for-profit colleges be enacted.
The measure supported by Foxx would decrease the amount of oversight on federal funds allocated to education and job training—funds that equal a lower percentage of the overall budget than in 1970. Given that various for-profit schools are being investigated in over 32 states and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under suspicion of misleading students or defrauding federal education programs, activists maintain that the measure could damage the already problematic educational funding system.