Higher Education Policy: Dysfunction in Microcosm

In “Budgeting in Neverland,” James L. Payne explains that one of the major reasons federal policy is so irrational – and expensive – is that policymakers typically hear only from people who stand to gain from expanding federal expenditures and programs, while those who bear the costs – taxpayers – are almost never heard from.

Federal higher education policy illustrates this perfectly. Case in point: a Department of Education notice issued just last Friday to establish “negotiated rulemaking,” part of the process for revising federal regulations. Take a look at the groups the feds will permit to have representatives on various rulemaking committees, and you’ll see Payne’s problem in action:

The Department has identified the constituencies listed below as having interests that are significantly affected by the subject matter of the negotiated rulemaking process. The Department anticipates that individuals representing each of these constituencies will participate as members of one or more of the negotiated rulemaking committees. These constituencies are:

Students; Legal assistance organizations that represent students; Financial aid administrators at institutions of higher education; Business officers and bursars at institutions of higher education; Institutional servicers (including collection agencies); Trustees; State higher education executive officers; Business and industry;

Institutions of higher education eligible to receive Federal assistance under Title III, Parts A and B and Title V of the HEA, which includes Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, American Indian Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions, and other institutions with a substantial enrollment of needy students as defined in Title III of the HEA; Two-year public institutions of higher education; Four-year public institutions of higher education; Private, non-profit institutions of higher education; Private, for profit institutions of higher education; Guaranty agencies and guaranty agency servicers (including collection agencies); Lenders, secondary markets, and loan servicers; and Accrediting Agencies.

In addition to these groups, the Department would like the following groups to be represented on the negotiating committee for the ACG and National SMART Grant program:

K-12 public schools, including charter schools; Governors; Private schools and home schooled students; Registrars; Admissions officers; Parent organizations; and Organizations related to National SMART Grant majors.

The feds recognize numerous groups as having “interests that are significantly affected by the subject matter of the negotiated rulemaking process,” but the people who actually pay the federal bills are nowhere among them. It’s just another example of your – I mean, their – government at work.