Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Congress Considers Education Agenda

Fresh from an election victory and bolstered by a reinforced Republican majority in Congress, President Bush is prepared to enact a higher education agenda that could leave his mark on American colleges and universities for years to come.

The Bush administration’s proposed policies, which congressional officials say will be considered soon after the new Congress convenes in early January, include several issues that were hotly contested during the election.

Proposals include funding for student financial aid – most notably federal Pell grants – and financial support for profit-based institutions.

Pell grant funding is a top concern of Georgetown administrators, who argue that increasing costs and a government-imposed enrollment cap have pressed the university into increasing tuition to make up for reduced federal aid. Officials say that Georgetown, with its relatively small endowment, is more dependent on federal aid than other comparable universities.

Although funding for Pell grants has increased by $3.2 billion over the past three years, the maximum authorized grant has remained frozen at $4,050 per student, largely due to a significant increase in the number of students eligible to receive Pell funding. In the first three years of Bush’s term, the number of students receiving Pell grants rose by over one million, to 5.3 million.

President Bush has asked Congress for an almost $1 billion increase in the program during the next fiscal year, a change that would bring the total Pell budget to $12.9 billion.

Scott Fleming (SFS ’72), assistant to the president for federal relations, said Georgetown strongly supports increases in Pell grant funding. He raised concerns about two Bush administration initiatives to distribute “targeted” grant funding to students specializing in math and science courses and students who have taken challenging courses in high school.

“We would be better served in making those funds available across the board,” Fleming said.

Georgetown officials said they are also concerned with what they believe is the Bush administration’s emphasis on primary and secondary education funding, causing less attention to be focused on higher education needs.

Fleming criticized Congress’ characterization of higher education appropriations as a “zero-sum game,” in which the amount of funding given out each year is kept constant. In a time of record tuition levels, record attendance at colleges and universities and an increasing need for an educated population, federal funding for higher education is more necessary than ever, Fleming said.

“I think it’s very unfortunate that there hasn’t been a way to find additional resources,” he said.

Government professor Clyde Wilcox said that discussion of a broad mandate for the president to enact his higher education agenda is premature given the closeness of the election.

“Bush can claim a mandate, but it was a close election so he can’t claim it on everything,” Wilcox said. “That is, he can’t expect to get his way on all issues, and I

would guess that the [higher education] issues . would be lower down his list.”

The administration has proposed several measures that would make it easier for proprietary institutions to receive federal aid.

The proposals have stoked fears among Georgetown administrators that for-profit institutions could begin competing for a fixed amount of federal aid, possibly reducing the university’s share of federal funds, Fleming said.

“If we now add a whole new slew of institutions that are eligible for a piece of the pie, and we aren’t growing the pie, it’s going to come right out of our hides,” he said.

The Bush administration’s tax proposals, however, have won support from several higher education groups. The White House’s tax package currently includes provisions that would make permanent certain benefits, such as allowing graduates to deduct interest paid on student loans from their federal income taxes, and creating incentives for investing in a federal college savings account.

Fleming said that the administration had lobbied particularly strongly for a plan to introduce charitable Individual Retirement Arrangement rollovers, which would allow individuals over a certain age to donate their IRAs as charitable gifts without suffering tax penalties.

Georgetown administrators have estimated that the university could receive approximately $20 million from alumni IRA donations if the proposal is adopted, Fleming said. The plan is part of Bush’s faith-based initiative and has attracted broad support in Congress.

Many faculty members were concerned, however, with the possibility that Republicans in Congress could act on the “academic bill of rights” proposal, a measure backed by some conservatives that would require colleges and universities not to consider political beliefs in their hiring and tenure decisions.

The proposal would also require institutions to invite speakers to campus and structure courses and curricula in a manner that would attempt to give both sides of contentious political issues equal time on campus.

Faculty and higher education groups have charged that the measure, if passed, would violate the principles of academic freedom.

“We might need a particle physicist who is liberal and a string theory mathematician who is conservative,” Wilcox said. “[That] would make hiring quite an interesting challenge. Or how about ignoring ideology and focusing on issues, so we would need lots of creationist biologists, and some flat earth geologists, and lots of Muslims and Buddhists in religion departments.”

Kelsey Pristach (SFS ’07) said she was confident in Bush’s ability to enact an agenda beneficial to students and faculty alike. She said she was worried, however, about introducing new spending in a time of large federal budget deficits.

“If there’s a budget deficit, I think it’s more important to fund financial aid than fund research,” Pristach said. “Overall, I do have confidence that the Republicans can effectively manage higher education policy.”

Some students were less confident in their assessments of Congress’ ability to craft a broad-based plan for colleges and universities.

“I’m not optimistic about increases across the board or really in any significant increases in funding for higher education,” Will Wagner (SFS ’07) said. “You can’t give money that you don’t have.”

Fleming said he planned to closely follow developments in Congress over the coming months, and gave a cautious evaluation of the prospects for federal higher education policy over the next few years.

“I think it just comes down to how the issues play out,” he said. “I think it’s anyone’s guess what will happen.”

Donate to The Hoya

Your donation will support the student journalists of Georgetown University. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Hoya