Sen. Alexander Vows to Block New Obama Education Regulations

Ardently opposed to the Education Department’s gainful-employment rule and proposed college-ratings system, he did not hold back at National Journal’s forum on education.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., talks to Atlantic Media's Ron Brownstein at a National Journal Live event. 
National Journal
Sophie Quinton
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Sophie Quinton
June 9, 2015, 11:42 a.m.

Wash­ing­ton, D.C.—The head of the Sen­ate com­mit­tee in charge of edu­ca­tion le­gis­la­tion said Tues­day that he’d like to block two of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s key ef­forts to en­sure col­leges serve stu­dents well.

Sen. Lamar Al­ex­an­der, a Ten­ness­ee Re­pub­lic­an, said at a Na­tion­al Journ­al event that he doubts the Edu­ca­tion De­part­ment will ever fig­ure out how to design a col­lege-rat­ings sys­tem. Back in 2013, Pres­id­ent Obama asked the agency to rate the na­tion’s thou­sands of col­leges and uni­versit­ies based on factors like net price and gradu­ation rates.

The Edu­ca­tion De­part­ment is sup­posed to re­lease the rat­ings this fall. “I don’t think they have the ca­pa­city to do it,” Al­ex­an­der said, re­mind­ing the stand­ing-room-only crowd that he used to run the agency.

If the Edu­ca­tion De­part­ment does cre­ate such a sys­tem, Al­ex­an­der said he’d try to stop it through le­gis­la­tion. In­form­a­tion about col­leges and uni­versit­ies is already widely avail­able, he said.

Al­ex­an­der also said he’d like to block the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s gain­ful-em­ploy­ment rule. The reg­u­la­tion, which goes in­to ef­fect next month, sanc­tions ca­reer col­leges when their gradu­ates carry more stu­dent loan debt than they can re­pay.

“The reas­on I ob­ject to it is it’s hor­rendously com­plic­ated,” Al­ex­an­der said of the gain­ful-em­ploy­ment rule.

Cut­ting bur­eau­crat­ic red tape is a pri­or­ity for Al­ex­an­der as Con­gress de­bates the reau­thor­iz­a­tion of the High­er Edu­ca­tion Act. He also doesn’t like the Edu­ca­tion De­part­ment’s grow­ing in­flu­ence over both K-12 and high­er edu­ca­tion.

Rather than a nar­row reg­u­la­tion like gain­ful em­ploy­ment — which is aimed at ex­pens­ive for-profit col­leges — Al­ex­an­der would like to pass le­gis­la­tion that would chal­lenge all col­leges to keep stu­dent-loan debt low. He’d do that by mak­ing col­leges take some re­spons­ib­il­ity for re­pay­ing the loans their stu­dents take out to pay for their de­grees.

Al­ex­an­der says he’s hop­ing to put to­geth­er a bi­par­tis­an Sen­ate bill for reau­thor­iz­ing the High­er Edu­ca­tion Act by early fall.

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