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Duncan Defends Proposed Higher Education Spending

At a hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, Education Secretary Arne Duncan was put on trial to defend the Obama administration’s proposed education budget, which increases the Education Department’s budget by $70 and is largely aimed towards buttressing higher education.

Libby Nelson from Inside Higher Ed reported that Duncan was facing criticism from both parties, but the critiques came on a partisan line. Republicans asked why there was a need for any new spending at all, and were particularly unhappy about proposed mandatory spending exemplified by the Perkins Loan expansion. The crux of the problem, according to Representative Hal Rogers (Kentucky – R) is that the spending would have to be funded by borrowing.

“Is this important enough that we borrow from Red China to pay for it and give the bill to our grandkids?” Rogers asked.

Democrats felt the spending should be directed toward already-established programs built to support low-income students.

Duncan argued the proposed $8 billion of spending on community colleges is critical to helping unemployed workers in the trouble economy. Further, he pointed out that the new Race for the Top program encourages colleges to keep prices down and pushes states to increase their own higher education budgets.

“We at the federal level can’t do it by ourselves,” Duncan said. “We have to put some incentives out there to try to encourage them.”

There were also barbs directed at the public university system, namely the fact that in the past 20 years cost-per-student has decreased while tuition has steadily increased. However, Representative Norm Dicks (Washington – D) said state governments should be shouldering most of the blame.

“They don’t have any choice,” Dicks said. “I think you’ve got to be very careful not to criticize the universities unfairly here for what the states are doing to them, especially the public universities.”