Showdown in the Offing

Doug Lederman

Three years ago, Congress stopped then-Education Secretary Margaret Spellings dead in her tracks. Cheered on by college leaders, Senator Lamar Alexander and other lawmakers — irked by the Education Department’s aggressive attempts to regulate higher education accreditation and by what they perceived to be the executive branch’s encroachment on their turf — took several legislative steps that effectively blocked the department from issuing new rules on student learning outcomes.
The players and the issues have changed, but signs are emerging that a similar showdown could unfold early next year over the Obama administration’s plan to require for-profit colleges and other vocational programs to prove that they prepare their graduates for “gainful employment.” Exactly how such a showdown would shake out is hard to predict, but the likelihood of it taking place grew significantly in recent days.