About eight out of every nine K-12 students, and two out of every three college-age students, go to government schools. You'd think that Washington officials would be satisfied with that dominance, but no.
The Department of Education has proposed new rules that could potentially give state governments control of private colleges and universities. The prospective change has received little public attention, even though the new rules-unless they inspire heavy public protest-will take effect on Nov. 1, one day before this fall's elections.
The growth of for-profit and online educational institutions is creating the rationale for such governmental expansion. The idea is that without governmental control students will fall prey to fast-talking salesmen who lure them into flimsy courses that leave them stuck with heavy loan payments and unprepared for career progress.
That sometimes happens, but the new rules would require each state to enact "substantive" rules and regulations with which to judge private educational institutions. That goes beyond the licensing and registering that is now typical, and beyond state fraud and consumer protection laws. States would have to supervise college attendance and admissions policies, examine the success of graduates in obtaining employment, and to some degree rule on course offerings.
Vagueness about the degree of proposed government scrutiny is leading to different reactions to the proposals. The American Council on Education and over 75 other higher education and accreditation organizations are protesting many regulatory aspects of the proposal, noting that education "is an area where a one-size-fits-all approach does not work."
Former Colorado Senators Bill Armstrong and Hank Brown, now serving as the presidents of Colorado Christian University and the University of Colorado, go further: They contend that "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."
Beyond the question of how bad the regulations are rises a further question: As with healthcare, why not deal specifically with education problems, instead of putting an entire industry under government control? Nonprofit regional accrediting agencies already scrutinize most colleges and universities. The proposed rules would move authority from the private to the public sector and require all institutions to submit or go out of business.