The idea of requiring colleges to spend a minimum proportion of their endowments has gained some political currency of late, promoted mostly by Sen. Charles Grassley, and higher education officials have suspected that the alluring notion might make it into legislative form some time in the not-too-distant future. Little did they know it would be tomorrow...
And buried among the 61 amendments to the Higher Ed Act bill that lawmakers said they would seek to offer on the House floor Thursday was one, offered by Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), that would require colleges, regardless of wealth, to spend at least 5 percent of their endowments each year in ways that would reduce what students pay to attend college.
There's certainly a populist appeal here, but why is it the federal government's business to tell state, local, and private universities how they must spend their money? Well, part of the answer is that all private non-profit foundations must spend 5% of their endowments each year--all except universities. So in some regards, this proposal just extends the yoke of federal control over some who previously had been exempt, but does not create a new federal control--as if that's supposed to be some consolation.
Here's something I can get behind, though:
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) proposes significant new reporting on the admissions processes and decisions at colleges, aimed at exposing potentially illegal affirmative action. King’s amendment asks “whether federally funded institutions of higher education are treating student applications differently depending on the student’s race, color or national origin, and if so, the way in which these factors are weighted and the consequences to students and prospective students of these decisions.”
I'm sure a Democratic president would ensure the Department of Education gets right on that one.