House votes to roll back Department of Education rules

The House on Tuesday afternoon voted to repeal two Department of Education regulations, an act that Republicans said would help lower the cost of college for millions of students.

Members approved the Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act, H.R. 2117, in a 303-114 vote. Despite Democratic complaints about the bill during floor debate, 69 Democrats joined all voting Republicans in support of the legislation.

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Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee, argued on the floor that college costs rose 8 percent last year, and that the average graduate leaves school responsible for $22,000 in loans. He said getting the federal government out of the way would help.

"Solving a problem like rising college costs starts with recognizing that, as is so often the case, Washington is part of the problem," Kline said.

But Democrats disagreed, and said repealing the two 2010 rules in question would have little direct effect on tuition costs. One of the rules sets out federal guidelines state officials must follow when authorizing schools to operate in their state, and the other sets out a nation-wide definition for "credit hour" — both must be met for educational institutions to participate in federal aid programs.

Democrats also argued that the rules were meant to help ensure that federal education aid is directed to legitimate educational programs.

"This seems like a simple proposition: making sure taxpayers and students aren't getting ripped off," Education and the Workforce Committee ranking member George Miller (D-Calif.) said. "This legislation eliminates those important consumer protections, and it does so under the banner of academic freedom."

Instead of passing H.R. 2117, Democrats said the House should be focusing on ways to reduce student loan rates, which are expected to double starting July 1 unless Congress acts to keep the rates down.

House passage sends the education bill to a Senate that is likely to ignore it altogether. Another hurdle is the Obama administration, which said Monday that it opposes the bill.

"These regulations are necessary to prevent the inflation of the academic credits attributed to postsecondary education courses that could result in the over-awarding of federal student aid, and for the efficient administration of the student financial aid programs," the White House said of the Department of Education rules. However, the White House did not explicitly say it would veto the bill if it were to pass the Senate.