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February 16, 2005

Rep. John Boehner told a group of college presidents Tuesday that members of Congress are tired of hearing from constituents who can't figure out why their children can't transfer credit from one institution to another.

"We hear about it nonstop," Boehner (R-Ohio) said. He said that both of his daughters were "caught up" in the issue, thinking that they were taking courses that would transfer -- only to find out that wasn't the case.

Paternal instincts aside, the issue rankles lawmakers because it means that more students take longer to graduate than they would otherwise, so students are using federal aid (and not moving fully into the taxpaying professional world) longer than necessary.

Boehner's solution has two parts:

  • Require every college to let people know what its transfer policy is "and we expect you to live by it."
  • Bar colleges from denying credit solely (and he told the college presidents that the word "solely" should be underlined several times) on the basis of who accredits the college that awarded the credit.

Boehner's opinions are not his alone -- and he has clout to back them up. The Republican is chairman of the House education committee. In that position, he will play a key role in this year's review of the Higher Education Act, the primary law governing federal student aid programs.

The significance of the proposal on accreditation is that many for-profit colleges are accredited by national accrediting bodies while most nonprofit colleges are accredited by regional groups. Some nonprofit colleges have resisted accepting credit from nationally accredited colleges, much to the anger of members of Congress and people like Boehner.

In his talk, at the annual meeting of the American Council on Education, Boehner stressed that he was willing to listen to any problems colleges have with his plan. But he stressed that he was not going to back down because of hypothetical examples that stretch scenarios past plausibility.

For example, he said that some have charged that under his plan, a medical school would have to award transfer credit for a canine anatomy course offered by a dog grooming school. Boehner mocked this scenario, and repeated his point about how the accrediting agency in question just couldn't be the sole reason for denying credit.

"We are trying to lean on people to bring some clarity" to the transfer process, he said.

Boehner also had some other messages for colleges:

  • Control your costs. Boehner said that he was bothered by the fact that many colleges increase their tuition charges at rates well in excess of inflation year after year. After a while, he said, people want to know "what's going on?"
  • Don't pick on lenders. In discussing loan programs, Boehner said that he would have a policy of "neutrality" between direct lending and the guaranteed loans. But he went on to say that direct lending "has never met its targets" and that Congress and the administration have tried to get too much money from lenders.
  • You can't get everything you want. Boehner said that he sympathized with college officials who have complained about the cuts proposed by President Bush to some programs, and he noted that many of those programs have strong Congressional support. But he also noted that President Bush has proposed significant increases for Pell Grants and "he's got to find money somewhere" to pay for those increases.

 

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