Thursday, May 31, 2012

The 10 Most Powerful Lobbies Behind Higher Ed

Corporations and big businesses often get the worst of the backlash against political lobbying, but it’s important not to forget that colleges are businesses, too, and they engage in lobbying as well, sometimes in a very questionable manner. Over the past few decades, the strength of the higher ed lobby has grown, so much so that many politicians believe that it’s nearly impossible to make any sustained changes to higher education, especially those that would take away autonomy or require greater oversight to college campuses. While some of the actions of the higher education lobby protect students, many more simply protect colleges themselves and often have financially or academically harmful consequences for students.

One way you can protect yourself and learn more about the political actions of your institution of higher learning is by getting to know some of the strongest and loudest voices in the higher education lobby. We’ve highlighted just a few here to get you started.

  1. The American Council on Education:

    By far the most powerful force behind the higher ed lobby is this group, the American Council on Education. Operated out of Washington, D.C. (which is quite convenient for lobbying), this organization is made up of more than 1,800 colleges, universities, associations, organizations, and corporations and was created with the purpose of influencing public policy on education, research, and other higher education initiatives. The group’s headquarters, One Dupont, is home to not only the ACE but also a whole host of other education groups, an arrangement that gives them all greater cohesion and ultimately stronger lobbying power. In years past, the group has successfully lobbied against ending legacy preferences, early decisions, and a wide range of other issues that likely would have benefited students (but hurt colleges’ bottom lines).

  2. National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities:

    Private colleges and universities often belong to this group, which was born out of the frustration the ACE faced after not being able to convince the government to give federal aid directly to colleges, instead doling it out to students themselves. Founded in 1976, private colleges and universities believed this organization would give them the power to lobby the government more effectively and not make the same mistakes they had made with grant money. They were right. In one of many successes for the group, they worked with Republicans to block a proposal to allow the Education Department to audit the finances of colleges that showed signs of mismanagement. In recent years, the group has also been a staunch opponent of proposals that would eliminate subsidies for student loan providers (freeing up billions for grants for low-income students) and new academic standards for institutions receiving federal aid, both of which they successfully derailed.

  3. Association of American Universities:

    This exclusive group of top research institutions (membership is invitation only) is committed to maintaining a strong system of academic research and education. One of the ways it does that is by lobbying in D.C. for more research funding for member institutions, which it often gets. More money for research is hardly a bad thing, but like other groups on this list, the AAU is also very wary of government oversight when it comes to using those research dollars. In 2011, the group, led by Harvard, successfully weakened legislation that would require scientists at research institutions to disclose any conflicts of interest when using public dollars for research, including any industry or corporate ties they might have. Why would universities oppose this? Because federally-funded research often yields them financial rewards as well, in the form of private funding and patents.

  4. Association of Public and Land-grant Universities:

    This organization is the more modern incarnation of the first-ever higher education group, the Association of American Agricultural Colleges and Experiment Stations. Because the majority of schools in the APLU are public and rely on federal and state funding in order to get by, the chief concern of the group in recent years has been lobbying the government to ensure that cutbacks in spending don’t extend too harshly to higher education, a force which it believes helps to stimulate the economy. The group is also working to help schools lobby state governments for changes in funding that will help them balance their budgets amid economic distress, something that’s been an especially big issue in states like California, where higher education cutbacks were severe. Through several lobbying and consulting groups, the APLU spent more than $350,000 last year pushing through their initiatives.

  5. American Association of State Colleges and Universities:

    When it comes to regional issues, this organization is the powerhouse behind pushing through or pushing against proposed legislation. Much of the lobbying for this organization is done at the state level, helping public colleges get funding and support from state governments. It’s also been a bit more flexible when it comes to issues of oversight than some of its more federally focused partner organizations. In fact, in 2006, it began developing the Voluntary System of Accountability for public colleges and universities (in response to the damning Spellings Commission report), which would require the institutions to engage in much more transparent and open about their practices and accounting. It was the only major higher educational organization to support the change, and many others went into overdrive trying to oppose it.

  6. Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities

    For-profit colleges have faced quite a bit of criticism in past years for questionable business practices. Some of this criticism may be justified, however, if you take a look at their education organization’s lobbying efforts. Just this year, they managed to force a watering down of the Department of Education’s Gainful Employment regulations, which would much more closely monitor programs that could potentially take advantage of low-income students often leaving them heavily in debt and with worthless degrees. Instead of the strong regulations the U.S. DoE wanted, thanks to the lobbying efforts of the APSCU, schools will have a three-year grace period and will get three strikes before being cut off from government aid.

  7. American Association of Community Colleges:

    Perhaps the least prestigious of the “Big Six” higher education lobbying groups, the AACC still has a powerful voice when it comes to lobbying the federal government. The group has strong ties to groups like the U.S. departments of Labor, Education, Energy, Homeland Security, and Commerce and the National Science Foundation, among others, giving it a fair amount of sway when it wants to influence pending legislation. Interestingly enough, the goals of the AACC are often at odds with other organizations we’ve mentioned. For instance, in 2009, Michigan community colleges were lobbying for the right to offer four-year degrees, a move opposed by organizations representing the state’s public universities. Battles have already been fought (and won) over the matter in several other U.S. states over the matter, but the AACC expects more states, including Arizona and California to join in opposing what they see as an unfair situation.

  8. Sallie Mae:

    When it comes to spending big on lobbying, Sallie Mae isn’t shy. The group spent about $1.46 million in 2006 on lobbying the government a number that has only grown in recent years as demands for student loan industry reform grow ever stronger. Sallie Mae is the world’s largest student loan originator and has for decades opposed legislation that would end government subsidies for the company. Yet in 2009, the group decided to stop fighting and start compromising, allowing an end to subsidies if the government would let them control who would originate and service their loans, a deal that the government wasn’t willing to take. This has meant increased lobbying for the company, who spent a whopping $1.86 million in the first quarter of 2010 alone.

  9. Apollo Group:

    Apollo Group, the parent company of the University of Phoenix, shelled out $615,000 in 2006 for lobbying and a whopping $930,000 in 2011. As part of the larger for-profit college lobbying efforts, the company isn’t shy about putting an end to legislation it feels will harm its bottom line, but it hasn’t been able to stem all of the new regulations that will apply to its operations. Why does it care so much about legislation? Because the school’s nearly 400,000 students rely almost exclusively on government grants and loans to attend, making the group a serious target for government scrutiny and giving it good reason to shell out to protect its profits.

  10. American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers:

    This smaller division within the ACE is one of the most powerful voices for college employees working in admissions and registration, with more than 11,000 members nationwide. Even though they don’t have the pull that other lobbyists might, they’re not afraid to stand apart from those groups on big issues, including the Student Aid Reward Act, of which it was the only higher ed lobby to lend support. The group has also supported other pieces of legislation that most higher ed lobbies oppose, including, most recently, a bill that would disallow federal funds to be used in the marketing budgets of colleges and universities, something universally opposed by the Big Six.

Taken From Online Colleges

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