New education act fights crime, drugs, college costs
For months, the only effect President Clinton has had on the lives of college students is providing some joke fodder and maybe a blush or two. This week, he finally had a different sort of impact on American students.
Wednesday, Clinton signed several amendments to the Higher Education Act. These amendments will directly influence the lives of college students across the country. Many of the new measures are designed to improve college campus security, increase student financial aid and deter drug and alcohol abuse among college students.
The new rules help colleges as they better meet the needs of their student bodies. College will now be safer and more accessible for the average American.
The act brings much-needed revisions to the way campuses report their crime statistics. The new figures will be much more useful to prospective students.
For years, many universities have tried to disguise their campus crime figures. Under the new act, crime statistics must include any crime administrators are aware of -- not only those reported to the police, and they must include crimes occurring on public property near campus and on property controlled by the university or student organizations, such as fraternity houses.
Students will benefit from the new, more complete crime statistics. On large campuses like Texas A&M, crime figures on campus are not as useful as statistics that include the areas near campus and locations with high student populations.
At Texas A&M, for example, crime statistics might soon include brawls outside of the Dixie Chicken and wrecks on University Drive. Safety-conscious students are certainly concerned with violence in locations besides the main campus.
Although these new requirements may burden university staffs, universities may finally be encouraged to combat crime is surrounding areas once they are required to report those incidents in their annual figures.
Unlike many congressional programs that make more suggestions than real impacts, the higher education act also sets aside grant money for universities to put toward their crime prevention programs. These changes should help eliminate the problem by giving schools both the incentive and means to fight campus crime.
The new measures also focus on one of the common causes of campus crime: drug and alcohol abuse. The new law requires any school receiving federal funds to implement a variety of drug and alcohol programs.
Alcohol abuse has certainly become a serious problem among college students, and Congress' new measures are not unreasonable.
To maintain their federal money, schools must implement a zero-tolerance drug and underage drinking policy, and they must discourage alcohol advertisements on campus or at university events. The act specifically attempts to discourage binge drinking which has proved fatal for many college students even in the past year.
One facet of the program is likely to safe lives and make minors think twice before emptying a six pack. Previously, university disciplinary hearings were protected under student privacy laws. This meant disciplinary actions against students could not be released to the student's family. Under the recent changes, drug and alcohol violations by minors may be reported to a student's parents. This should allow those who care about a student's health and safety to help them before anything tragic happens.
The administration of Texas A&M has been addressing the issue of alcohol abuse for some time. In fact, many of the measures Congress now requires have been in effect at A&M for some time. This emphasizes the fact these new requirements are not unreasonable, but responsible.
Finally the new amendments make a college education more available. Grant programs are expanded, loan repayments are made easier and interest rates are dropped.
"College is no longer a luxury for the well-to-do or even an opportunity for hard-working, middle-class kids whose parents save. It is an economic necessity for every American and for our country as a whole," said President Clinton shortly before signing the bill.
The act itself points out college expenses continue to climb faster than inflation. Though it does not address the underlying problem, the new act will help more Americans access higher education.
Though it may take some getting used to, the new act will improve American colleges and universities, and hopefully schools will produce more, better prepared graduates.
The new Higher Education Act shows Congress understands what the country needs. The bill concludes by affirming, "development of character is one of the primary goals of higher education."
Dave Johnston is a senior mathematics major.