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Former Senator Bill Armstrong is now president of Colorado Christian College, and he’s been reading the new regulations coming out of the Department of Education.

He’s worried that these new regulations, designed to ensure that the federal money flowing into higher education is properly spent, will open the door to a more direct government intervention into the substantive content and methods of instruction.

Armstrong is surely right to worry. In the main, the government has allowed regional accreditation organizations to certify the health of colleges and universities. These bodies are politicized to a degree, but in the main they are fairly well insulated from the grandstanding and rent-seeking of elected officials.

The Department of Education wants closer oversight, mostly, I imagine, to ensure the academic integrity of marginal institutions eager to soak up money from students who take out loans. However, as Amstrong knows, once the regulatory nose gets under the wall of the tent, the temptation to expand its scope can become powerful. Think Barney Frank, who so cheerfully tasked Fannie Mae.

American Higher Education has a voracious financial appetite, and the role of federal money is likely to increase and increase. There is every reason to believe that guys and gals who pay the bills—our elected representatives—will begin to see higher education as part of their portfolio, to be deployed to advance their political ideas and the interests of their supporters.

Bill Amstrong has played in the political sandbox, and he knows the playground rules, which is why he’s worried. Good for him. I hope his worries translate into influence and limitations on the direct regulatory authority of the government over private colleges and universities.

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