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5 questions with Terry Hartle

Top Washington lobbyist for higher education says universities in for tough times with down economy, but TCU better than most.

5 questions with Terry Hartle

Terry Hartle is the senior vice president, Division of Government and Public Affairs at the American Council on Education.

5 questions with Terry Hartle

Top Washington lobbyist for higher education says universities in for tough times with down economy, but TCU better than most.

Terry Hartle, senior vice president, Division of Government and Public Affairs at the American Council on Education (ACE), is considered the most visible lobbyist for higher ed in Washington, D.C. He helps coordinate government relations for some 60 associations in the Washington-based higher education community and oversees Higher Education for Development (HED). He was on campus in January to speak with TCU’s Administrative Council about the challenges facing colleges and universities.

What tops the list of concerns in higher education? Right now, the economy swamps everything else. The biggest issue is how colleges and universities will struggle through. Today, we have greater enrollment in higher education than we’ve ever had before — 18.5 million people. We have more students in college than we have in high school. But at the same time, some states, like California, are cutting higher education funding because they can’t afford it. The chancellor of the California community college system told me several months ago that this year they will exclude 200,000 students from California community colleges because they can’t afford to enroll them. That means 200,000 people won’t be able to contribute like they want to contribute, who won’t have opportunities they want to have.

But didn’t California raise tuition? Yes, this year they hiked tuition 32 percent. But there’s a broader problem involving higher education, particularly public higher education — Americans have become accustomed to having the public services we want without worrying about whether or not we’re willing to pay for it. Somebody said to me that Americans cast themselves like libertarians and subsidize themselves like socialists.

What else is on people’s minds? People are concerned about the status of pending higher education legislation. It has the potential to change federal student loans and people are wondering whether it will happen and what it will mean for colleges and universities, whether or not it’s a good thing.  We are also worried about some provisions in the same legislation that we fear could move too much authority over academic matters from campus officials to state and federal government. There’s some who believe that the model of No Child Left Behind, the centrally directed reform efforts, will produce desirable results. We worry about that sort of model getting applied to higher education, particularly to independent colleges and universities, most of which want to have absolutely nothing to do with state government.

What has spurred the intense interest in higher ed by the federal government? This is sort of the intellectual model: We want to be first in the world by 2020, so we need more graduates; we won’t get more college graduates until we increase the graduation rates at public colleges and universities; and we can’t do that without the involvement of state governments. So some think we need to give states, or maybe the feds, more authority over academic affairs. My view is that if you want to increase graduation rates, and you think the states are going to do a good job, you probably ought to look at secondary education, and ask how well they’ve done there. They have not done a particularly good job after 25 years and billions of dollars in federal money for secondary education. Why do we suddenly believe they’re going to do a good job in public higher education?

Which of these issues is likely to affect TCU? I think TCU is very well positioned to deal with the current economic downturn. It is a very strong school with a growing reputation for a lot of reasons, including your football team. It is a hot school, and it’s been conservatively managed for many, many years — and that usually turns out to be a good thing in a down economy.