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KNIGHT: Obamechanic tinkers with colleges

Education commissar wants institutions to seek federal accreditation

- The Washington Times - Friday, October 1, 2010

When I was in college, a professor from the Middle East was giving me advice in his office.

He said, "My son (he fancied himself a mentor), truth comes in three colors: blonde, brunette and redhead." At the time, I was unmarried, and it seemed to make sense, although I was leery because of his reputation as a skirt-chaser. I wanted to get married, not start a harem.

Today, truth on campus may be coming in only one color: red.

The Obama administration seems determined to bring academia under the government's heavy hand. You'd think President Obama would leave it alone, because most college professors probably voted for him. But wait. The real aim seems to be to politicize the academy even more.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants all schools that accept federal student aid to have a license from a state agency that would list "authorized" institutions. Anyone else would be out of luck. The state agencies would follow federal guidelines, of course.

Mr. Duncan laid out this and other proposed rules in an Aug. 13 letter to Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, and Sen. Michael Enzi, Wyoming Republican, who held hearings on federal student assistance programs in June.

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the Association of Christian Schools International and the American Council on Education (ACE) all oppose the new rules. In a 17-page critique, the ACE, which represents 70 higher-education associations and accrediting agencies, praised Mr. Duncan for regulations aimed at stopping "fraud and abuse" but then warned about "their breadth and the heavy compliance burdens they will impose."

For example, ACE notes that "a single anecdote is the basis for the Department's proposal to require 6,000 institutions to accept a federal definition of 'credit hour' and require all recognized accrediting agencies to assume a greatly enhanced role in policing institutional procedures."

Translation: Are you out of your minds? Nobody could determine a one-size-fits-all "credit hour" for the entire nation. Not even Mao Zedong, Anita Dunn's favorite philosopher.

Unless Congress short-circuits this plan, the new rules will be finalized by Nov. 1 and take effect July 1, 2011.

Another rule, the ACE said, would "eliminate due process" and allow the secretary of education to bar a college from federal Title IV programs "without providing notice, hearing or appeal."

That commissar-type power should strike terror in the hearts of even the most ardent Obama fans on campus. But some folks on the left probably can't wait to "work" the new system.

Former Colorado Republican Sens. Bill Armstrong and Hank Brown write in the Denver Post, "The department's power grab carries with it an implicit invitation for various pressure groups to seek legal mandates requiring colleges and universities to implement their pet theories about curriculum, degree requirements, faculty qualifications, teaching methods, textbooks, evolution, phonics, ROTC, climate change, family policy, abortion, race, sexual orientation, economic theory, etc. ... This assault on academic freedom and institutional autonomy is a slap in the face to regional accreditation agencies whose peer reviews have been bulwarks of integrity and academic quality for decades. Loss of accreditation is literally a death sentence."

Mr. Armstrong, who is president of Colorado Christian University, and Mr. Brown, who was president of Northern Colorado University and the University of Colorado, have a better solution: "If the Department has knowledge of wrongdoing, they should call for prosecution."

The Obama administration has also begun an assault on for-profit colleges. As the typical college campus is now run by feminists and other left-wing radicals, many men find the no-nonsense for-profits such as the University of Phoenix, DeVry University and Strayer University more congenial and convenient, as do single parents and people who work.

Not so fast, says Mr. Obama's education scold, Mr. Duncan. "Some schools have profited and prospered," he thunders. "And this is a disservice to students and to taxpayers."

In July, the Education Department proposed a "gainful employment" rule that would cut off federal student aid to for-profit colleges if a certain percentage of graduates fail to pay back loans or earn enough to repay them. "At least 45 percent of former students must be paying down the principal on their loans, or the debt payments of graduates must not exceed 8 percent of their annual income," reports the Wall Street Journal.

Who can keep track of all that? Why, it would take new armies of bureaucrats. Oh, we see. Well, it fits nicely with the government's takeover of college loans, courtesy of a provision slipped into Obamacare. The government's heavy hand is getting heavier by the minute.

It's true that tuition tends to be higher at for-profit schools and that a higher percentage of their students default on loans. But enrollment has tripled over the past decade to about 1.8 million, the Journal reports. And these schools have a 65 percent graduation rate compared to 44 percent at community colleges.

The for-profit schools, which get no state aid, save taxpayers money and contribute to state coffers. The Apollo Group, which operates the University of Phoenix, paid $445 million in income taxes in 2009, according to Forbes magazine.

The for-profits came under attack in the Senate hearings based on a report from the Government Accountability Office, which sent undercover "students" to 15 colleges and found that some provided misleading information about "accreditation, the requirements for repayment of student loans, graduation rates, job placement, or likely earnings." Yes, there are miscreants in any industry, and there already are rules to discipline them.

It's only a pipe dream, but what if the GAO investigated the average liberal arts university and its claims to prepare students for life? Can anyone plausibly argue that exposing students only to left-wing speakers and professors will equip Joe and Josie College to compete in real-life America? Or how about some of the Top 10 worst college courses, as compiled by Conservapedia, such as the University of Baltimore's Media Genres: The Study of Zombies, Cornell's Cyber Feminism or UCLA's Queer Musicology?

I don't think you'll find those courses at Christian schools or for-profit colleges, which aren't taxpayer-subsidized and can't afford to waste parents' money.

Robert Knight is senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and author of the newly updated "Radical Rulers: The White House Elites Who Are Pushing America Toward Socialism" (radicalrulers.com, 2010).

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