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NACUBO Members Discuss College Cost Drivers on Capitol Hill

October 3, 2016

Over the past several years, with intense public scrutiny and concerns over the cost of college, student debt burden, and other college-related issues, lawmakers have responded by proposing new programs, rules, regulations and reforms. The stakes are high for higher education institutions as a newly elected Congress will likely attempt to tackle comprehensive tax reform and reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) in 2017.

To broaden the discussion, NACUBO members spent a day on Capitol Hill discussing federal policies that impact students, families, and institutions. This year, 21 constituent council members participated, representing public and private nonprofit institutions from research, comprehensive and doctoral universities to small and community colleges. Four NACUBO board members, Randall Gentzler, vice president for finance and treasurer,  Loyola University Maryland; Mary Lou Merkt, vice president for finance and administration, Furman University; Dawn Rhodes, chief business and finance officer and vice president, University of Maryland, Baltimore; and Patrick Wamsley, chief financial officer, Medical University of South Carolina, as well as a team of NACUBO staff members, also participated in the sixth annual advocacy day, which was held in conjunction with meetings of the constituent councils.

A morning briefing included remarks from Rick Grafmeyer, a tax policy advisor at Capitol Tax Partners; Bryce McKibben, education policy advisor, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (Democratic staff); and Liz Clark, NACUBO's director of federal affairs.

Later, in 28 separate meetings—reaching 18 different states—participants discussed the diverse and complex missions of their institutions and the financial practices they undertake to meet strategic objectives. They shared information about institutional aid and efforts to lower net price, explained how endowments are used to support both student aid and other educational needs, and how changes in state appropriations have affected colleges and universities in recent years. Business officers also discussed trends in major institutional cost drivers, accountability measures and successes in identifying operational efficiencies.

Business Officer Advocacy

With increased public scrutiny and continued outcry over rising sticker prices and student debt, lawmakers are eager to show voters they are taking action-and could do so as they work on tax reform and HEA reauthorization legislation in the next Congress. 

Ultimately, no matter how comprehensive tax reform is achieved (if at all), a wide-ranging scope of proposed changes to the tax code could impact students and their families, the higher education workforce, and the fundamental business operations of colleges and universities. For example, such changes could alter student and family education tax benefits, employee tax benefits, charitable giving, tax-exempt bond financing.

Efforts to reauthorize HEA will focus on making college more affordable, providing students with better information about college costs and student aid, and increasing institutional accountability for student access and success. NACUBO is eager to see the legislation include approaches to deregulation that eases the burden of confusing and unnecessary regulations and enables institutions to focus on education, student safety, and stewardship of federal funds. At the same time, NACUBO is wary of so-called "risk-sharing" proposals that could potentially limit access, increase costs, or reduce services and educational offerings.

NACUBO urges chief business officers to consider working with their  institutional leaders to reach out to policymakers to discuss both financial challenges and successes in lowering net tuition and meeting access, affordability and completion goals. Helping lawmakers (both elected officials and their staff) understand institutional cost drivers, financial accountability measures and innovations in operational efficiencies will be necessary as the public, and their elected officials, continue to demand more for less from colleges and universities.


Liz Clark
Senior Director, Federal Affairs