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Higher Ed Round-up............ September 12, 1997

College cost commission holds first meeting
The National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education, an 11-member body authorized by Congress in June to study trends in tuition and college pricing, held its first meeting on August 11 in Washington, DC. The group laid out an ambitious plan for its 120-day service, to be followed by a required report to Congress on college costs.

In a letter, U.S. Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chair of the House Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education, Training, and Life-Long Learning, charged the group to "put forth bold ideas to keep higher education affordable." He also asked the group to keep Congress in mind as it develops "a clear picture of what is happening with the cost of college." McKeon's committee will handle the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

William Troutt, president of Belmont College in Nashville, Tenn., chair of the commission, said, "We must look at how the system is moving and possible ramifications of what we might decide." Barry Munitz, chancellor of the California State University system, was elected vice chair of the commission.

Members of the commission identified the following priority issues: cost vs. price; the state role in higher education finance; "who pays for higher education and when they pay;" the income gap between the college-educated and the non-educated; and other topics.

The group met again in Washington, DC, on September 7-8 to clarify its charge and the process for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

The Affirmative Action debate continues
The U.S. Department of Education opened an investigation in July of new admissions policies at the University of California. UC President Richard Atkinson received a letter from the department's Office of Civil Rights noting that it is looking into whether the system's graduate and professional school admissions policies violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In effect, the department will be measuring the consequences of ending affirmative action.

The new policies - put in place after the UC Board of Regents banned affirmative action in 1994 - have sharply impacted minority application and enrollment. For example, the UC Berkeley law school admitted only 14 African American students this year, down from 75 last year; all declined the offer of admission. Only one African American student, who deferred enrollment from last year, will begin classes this fall. Similar patterns are evident at the University of Texas.

In an effort to combat the trend of plummeting minority enrollments and to deal with the future of this controversial issue, the American Bar Association (ABA) has announced its intention to de-emphasize the role that standardized test scores play in admissions decisions. Incoming ABA President Jerome J. Shestack said the bar association will work with the Law School Admission Council on a pilot project aimed at increasing minority enrollment, which will consider test scores only as a cutoff and focus principally on grades to determine admissions.

President Clinton last month denounced the falling minority enrollments at professional and graduate schools in California and Texas. He told participants at a National Association of Black Journalists meeting that he will work to "find some way to get around" the new admissions policies. He also stated that he believes the anti-affirmative action policies will be reversed within a few years.

(Sources: The Washington Post, 7/17/97; Academe Today, 8/6/97; The Washington Post 7/18/97; New York Times, 7/16/97; The Chronicle of Higher Education, 7/25/97)