Addendums Hinder Education Act’s Potential

    NATIONAL NEWS — In a rare showing of bipartisan cooperation
    and collective folly, the House of Representatives Education and Labor
    Committee unanimously passed a bill on Nov. 15 to renew the Higher Education
    Act. Called the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007, one of its
    major provisions would be the creation of “watch lists” of colleges that raise
    tuitions at above-average rates. Another part of the bill blames colleges for the
    illegal file-sharing routinely perpetuated by students and coerces them into
    coming up with solutions.

    According to the College Board; the average cost of a
    four-year private school rose to $23,712 for the 2007-08 accademic year, up 6.3
    percent from last year, while the average tuition for a four-year public school
    increased to $6,185, up 6.6 percent. In contrast, inflation only rose 3.7
    percent between October 2006 and October 2007. Because tuition rates are rising
    far beyond inflation, it might seem that colleges are unfairly increasing their
    tuitions. The new “watch lists” aim to stop universities with large endowments
    from unfairly passing costs onto students.

    On the surface, such a measure might seem reasonable.
    However, according to a report by Inside Higher Ed, the top 10 most-endowed
    private universities increased tuition at below-average rates this year, while
    operating costs and expenses forced private schools with smaller endowments to
    raise tuition at a higher rate. Other schools that the list affects are public
    institutions in states that appropriate less money to public education.

    The University of California system, with endowment assets
    standing at $8.7 billion total as of June 2006, would actually have ended up on
    the list because of the 7-percent increase in fees implemented for the 2007-08
    academic year. However, the media has already lampooned the UC system,
    justifiably in this situation, for its conduct, without the need for a “watch
    list” that would unfairly penalize cash-strapped schools in other parts of the
    nation. Furthermore, the lists do not actually do anything other than provide
    data that is already available, and force states to establish task forces to
    figure out where they can mitigate costs. Making schools develop more
    bureaucratic bodies hardly seems like a way to help them reduce costs, while
    the lists themselves do not exactly force a school to lower its tuition.

    With the inclusion of a provision backed by the Recording
    Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America
    that targets colleges and students it becomes blindingly obvious that Congress
    has no concern for schools. The bill would force every school participating in
    federal financial aid programs to “develop a plan for offering alternatives to
    illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property as
    well as a plan to explore technology-based deterrents to prevent such illegal
    activity.”

    Ignoring the many legitimate uses for peer-to-peer file
    sharing of intellectual property, such as distributing patches for software,
    this portion of the bill represents a massive increase in costs for colleges.
    “Alternatives to illegal downloading” are RIAA and MPAA code words for their
    puppet organizations (such as Napster) that offer a fee-based service to
    download music.

    Forcing schools to pay these fees, as well as purchasing
    anti peer-to-peer networking software, does nothing to enhance the quality of
    education. Instead, such measures would lead to an increase in tuition costs to
    fund these anti-downloading measures, thus contradicting the purpose of the
    “watch lists”. Furthermore, students who do not intend to download music should
    not be forced to suffer increased costs to satisfy the whims of the RIAA.

    Moreover, college students are unlikely to care about
    restrictions the school places on them. Students can either download music
    through a non-university network or simply a backdoor to whatever network
    restrictions the university puts in place. In addition, technical restrictions
    on networks cause problems for users conducting legitimate activities, such as
    Resnet’s security feature that cuts off a student’s Internet connection at the
    first hint of trouble, even if it turns out that there was no actual security
    risk. While Resent can justify its actions in the name of maintaining school
    network security, it is immoral to allow misguided attempts at preserving
    corporate profits in a failing music industry to interrupt student use of a
    university network.

    Renewing the Higher Education Act should be one of Congress’
    top priorities, and it is refreshing to see bipartisan efforts toward a common
    goal for once. However, ill-advised and foolhardy modifications to the act are
    not in the best interests of the universities and students that these
    legislators claim to serve.

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