ELIZABETH A. CONKEY
BENNINGTON -- Vermont Rep. Peter Welch announced plans for legislation Monday that could potentially lower college costs nationwide by reducing federal regulations and increasing flexibility in the application of federal financial aid.
The two-pronged approach, known as the Flexibility to Innovate for College Affordability Act, encourages the development of flexible pathways for students to earn their degrees more speedily and will work to remove outdated and unnecessary federal regulations within institutions.
If the law is passed by Congress, college students, as well as high school students enrolled in college courses, will be free to apply federal grants and loans towards accelerated degree completion, competency testing, competency-based learning, and dual-enrollment opportunities.
A regulatory reform task torce team, to be based in Washington D.C. , would be responsible for revising and cutting unnecessary federal regulations that, Welch said, are key contributors to college tuition increases and high operating costs.
"A college education, the gateway to the American middle class, is slipping further and further from the reach of working families. Federal loans and grants are a lifeline for college students. But students continue to lose ground because financial aid increases are being eaten up by college tuition increases," Welch said Monday, in a prepared statement. "This legislation creates partnership between the federal government and our college administrators to cut unnecessary federal regulatory costs and encourage cost saving innovations." The heads of three local institutions in and around Bennington, Karen Gross, president of Southern Vermont College, Joyce Judy, president of the Community College of Vermont, and Ellen McCulloch-Lovell, Marlboro College president, are all in favor of Welch’s legislation.
Gross said she feels strongly that the amount of time college faculty and administrators spend completing paperwork and regulatory filing requirements should be significantly reduced, and is therefore supportive of Welch’s initiative to that end.
"It’s time that could be spent with students and money that could go in the form of financial aid for the students," Gross said.
She explained that smaller institutions, like SVC, are not immune to the copious amount of regulatory requirements mandated by the federal government.
"For colleges in Vermont, and small ones, like my own, decreasing regulatory burden would be an enormous benefit." McCulloch-Lovell concurred, noting, "We think this legislation could do a lot to save colleges’ money by reducing costly reporting and regulations.
This is one way we can control costs toward making college affordable." Gross is supportive of Welch’s plan for a Regulatory Reform Task Force, but urges the congressman to ensure that the group be composed not only of college presidents and provosts, but populated by individuals who complete this regulatory work as part of their day-to-day duties, including financial aid officers, registrars, and bursars.
"It is critical that information be garnered from personnel that work at colleges and who make their living implementing these government regulations," said Gross. "The discussions cannot be theoretical, they need to be led by the people actually doing the work on college campus, the people must be fully-engaged." Gross went on to say that a "one size fits all" model is not realistic when it comes to the present-day college student demographic.
"Federal financial aid that is flexible and based on the needs of students will be very appealing," Gross said, "It will allow for many more students to not only get aid, but also succeed in their college education." Judy said the legislation presents the opportunity to examine the current state of financial aid and to make necessary changes, hopefully, for the better.
"Financial aid forms are complex," she noted. "We need to look at ways to simplify the whole process for everybody." She noted that if Welch’s legislation is passed, students at CCV and other colleges who desire to attend college year round and be enrolled full-time, would be able to do so, therefore expediting the receipt of a diploma.
"The majority of jobs in this state require a college degree," Judy said.
"Without the opportunity to attend college, folks would be stuck. I appreciate the Congressman’s commitment to making college accessible to all who are looking to enroll. I hope he is successful."
Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @bethconkey.