Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review – Executive Order: Part 2

 

 

On Friday, I posted the first part of a two-part series on Obama’s recent executive order regarding regulation. This second part will introduce a new focus of my blog – energy. As president of Colorado State University, I was committed to improving the energy efficiency of our campus and have previously served on the advisory board of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. I hope you enjoy my thoughts on current issues in energy.

On the same day as President Obama issued the executive order – – Improving Regulation and Regulatory Overview he wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, explaining the rationale for his action and his responsibility to “strike the right balance” between the costs and benefits of regulation.  He used as a major example of regulation gone awry the EPA’s continued treatment of the artificial sweetener, saccharin, as a dangerous chemical despite the FDA’s long-term consideration of saccharin as safe.

President Obama’s focus on the role of environmental regulation struck me as particularly apt and of considerable importance to many of us who have led large higher education institutions.  Many university presidents, include myself, have sought to address the challenges associated with the environment, particularly, the role that energy production and utilization plays in producing greenhouse gases.  When I was president of Colorado State University, I took several such actions –  promoting a research focus in renewable energy, creating a School of Global Environmental Sustainability to support students’ education and job potential, and introducing a variety of initiatives to address the risings costs of the University’s energy consumption and the carbon footprint of the institution.

I took these actions for a variety of reasons, including the body of science associated with climate change, documented in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Climate Change 2007.  But I also took these actions for two other reasons.  Students deserve to have access to knowledge on energy and the environment based on sound science, not merely opinion.  Finally, universities face growing, projected costs of energy, and a president has responsibility to assure the campus’s future energy supply at reasonable costs.

Those of us presidents who have addressed the challenges associated with energy on a college campus understand the complexities of the challenge, including the responsibility that we have – like the President – to “strike the right balance.”  While research and the technology that comes from it are increasing the potential of sustainable energy to replace fossil fuels, we understand the limitations of new technologies at this time and the costs associated with them.  Our on-going dependency on fossil fuels requires a pragmatic acceptance of the lack of a near-term, adequate substitute for them.  Thus, we find ourselves, like President Obama, measuring costs against benefits.  With the growing, global appetite for energy, we must insist on pragmatism, balancing the benefits of replacement of fossil fuels with the costs of their renewable substitutes.  That is the reason why regulation must be imposed only with great care.

Essentially, energy is another issue where access and success are intertwined with one another.  Customers, including universities, need access to energy, and universities, especially, have a responsibility for the long-term success of our energy industry: education of its employees, the development of new technology, including the capture and sequestration of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, and managing the costs of energy.  Thus, President Obama’s determination to “strike the right balance” in regulation is welcome.  I join him in supporting regulation that does so, and from time to time, I will comment on energy from the perspective of an educator and manager who has responsibility for assuring access to a reasonably priced supply of energy.

Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review – Executive Order: Part 1

 

 

This past week, President Obama issued the executive order – Improving Regulation and Regulatory Overview.  The actions by President Obama are a very positive sign, especially in light of the newly introduced regulations of the Department of Education this past year.  Those regulations in the areas of “new programs” and “gainful employment” have the potential to be very costly to higher education, and many of us have believed that they did not strike the right balance between protecting consumers of education with assuring consumers access to education.  President Obama had called for an approach that would “strike the right balance” in his Wall Street Journal op-ed, explaining the rationale for his action

The Department of Education’s gainful employment rule and its approval process for new programs have the potential to impact negatively both higher education and the broader economic recovery.  They can do so by slowing the growth of new programs with a “chilling effect” on new programs that comes from the additional, imposed processes associated with adding new programs.  They can also slow growth in higher education by imposing additional risk to the potential yield from new educational programs due to threats from the gainful employment rule.  Their impact may well limit innovation and growth in new jobs in this very large sector of our economy.

But perhaps the more significant potential impact of regulations like the ones the Department of Education chose to implement is on the slowed growth in human capital that comes from limiting job-related training and education for industry sectors where the value of human capital is increasingly critical.  U. S. productivity matters, and one way we increase our productivity is through education that improves the quality of our labor supply.

I applaud the direction that President Obama has announced, and I look forward to its effect throughout government, including the Department of Education.

Be sure to check back on Monday, as I will post Part 2 of this blog on an exciting new issue that I hope to blog about more in the future.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Chronicle of Higher Education reporter Jennifer Gonzalez makes a very interesting point in her article “Nonprofit Colleges Have Their Own Concerns About New Federal Rules” stressing that it’s not just the proprietary schools that are having concerns with the proposed Dep of Ed regulations.

Mollie Benz Flounlacker, associate vice president for federal relations at the Association of American Universities says “There is concern that some of these regulations targeting the for-profit sector will have a spillover effect. This one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work in higher education, which has such a diverse set of institutions.”

Students and their learning needs vary enormously.  One-size does not fit all, and traditional colleges and universities are well aware of the resulting challenge.  Schools shouldn not be regulated in a one-size-fits-all approach.

In the same article from the Chronicle, it was also interesting to note C. Todd Jones’ comment. He is the president and general counsel of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio. He makes the point that “the department has created a new regulatory regime to fix a problem that they have not fully articulated with a solution whose impact they don’t fully understand.”

As with any federal rule-making, , there are going to be concerns on both sides of the issue. It is important for the Department to consider the various and unintended consequences of its regulations. At the end of the day, the U. S. needs to consider what is best for the student and what is best for raising U. S. economic competitiveness through education.  And a one-size-fits-all approach probably is not a solution.