This vote was on an amendment that would have preserved the Department of Education’s ability to establish a national standard for the definition of a “credit hour” at colleges and universities eligible for federal student aid.
Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) offered the amendment to Republican legislation that would overturn federal standards for colleges and universities that qualify for federal student aid. The standards were set by the Department of Education as a way to ensure schools that are eligible for federal student aid are meeting minimum requirements for the integrity of their programs.
Among the regulations scrapped by the Republican bill is a minimum standard for the definition of a “credit hour.” Most higher education institutions require their students to earn a specified number of credit hours before receiving a degree. The Department of Education was seeking to set a minimum standard for the amount of time and work required to earn a credit hour. Schools that did not meet that standard could be declared ineligible for federal student aid.
Rep. Bishop argued that this standard was critical to ensure federal student aid was supporting high-quality education. Without the standard, the Department of Education would be powerless to take action in a situation where institutions are gaming the system or providing substandard education, he said.
“We provide over $200 billion in federal student aid, either in the form of grants or in the form of guarantees. And the basis, at least in part, on which we provide that is students' adherence to the minimum number of credit hours that they must take and institutions' adherence to that which they define as a credit hour,” Rep. Bishop said. “To put the Secretary of Education in a position where he or she would be unable to act … is simply unwise.”
Republicans argued that the credit hour standard would represent a “federal overreach into an area that should be left to colleges and universities.” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) argued that Congress, not the Department of Education, should be responsible for taking action if schools abuse the federal student aid program.
“The word ‘education’ is no place in the Constitution, but Article I, section 1 does talk about the House of Representatives and the Congress,” Rep. Foxx said. “That's where the Founders wanted the power to lie, where the authority is to lie. We are accountable to the people whom we represent. We are the people's House. We should not be abrogating our responsibility to unelected bureaucrats.”
Rep. Bishop’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 160-255. Voting “yea” were 159 Democrats, including a majority of progressives, and 1 Republican. Voting “nay” were 232 Republicans and 23 Democrats. As a result, the House moved forward with legislation that would bar the Department of Education from defining a minimum standard for “credit hours” at colleges and universities eligible for federal student aid.