Editorial: ‘Big Government’ Threatens American Higher Education

Two years ago, Congress considered requiring curricula of federally funded international-studies programs to pass the muster of the FBI and CIA, among other national security agencies. Fortunately for academic freedom, that proposal died.

However, a watered-down version of the bill, which would increase scrutiny of these programs, is currently moving through the House of Representatives as part of a larger reauthorization package for the Higher Education Act. Ironically, while conservative Republicans have refused to increase financial aid programs and the federal direct-loan program as part of the reauthorization, fearing the growth of “big government,” they seem to have few qualms about imposing heavy regulatory burdens on universities.

One part of the package (now, fortunately, greatly diluted), would have required colleges to explain increases in student fees, or face financial penalties. Another, the so-called “Academic Bill of Rights,” would get the government involved in structuring classroom curriculum.

Needless to say, few of these measures would actually help students, and most would politicize higher education. American colleges continue to be the best in the world largely because they operate with little government meddling; Pell Grants, for example, go directly to needy students, not universities. The current proposal would give the federal government a much bigger say in how these colleges operate, and almost certainly weaken higher education through petty politics.

Lawmakers must realize that the way Congress can truly help students, if it’s actually interested, is to appropriate more money for existing programs, not create burdensome regulations. Nothing will destroy America’s universities faster than the true rise of big government.