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The House's New Higher Ed Leader

WASHINGTON -- Given the state of the U.S. economy and the promises of Republican lawmakers to cut the deficit, much if not most of the Congressional activity surrounding higher education in the 112th Congress is likely to unfold in the House and Senate committees that set federal spending and overall budget and tax policies. But to the extent that the education committee in the House of Representatives weighs in on issues affecting colleges and universities, a face unfamiliar to many in higher education will have a large say.

The chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Minnesota's John Kline, announced in December that he had asked Representative Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican, to head the Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning, and Competitiveness, which deals with postsecondary issues of all sorts, including financial aid, work force development, and the like.

Foxx, a House member since 2005, spent much of her pre-Congress career in higher education, starting as a secretary at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, teaching and administrating at Caldwell Community College and Appalachian State University, and ultimately serving several years as president of North Carolina's Maryland Community College. She also spent 10 years in the North Carolina Senate.

The North Carolinian, who boasts of being "one of just 38 Republicans to score a 100 percent approval rating from the American Conservative Union," has left a relatively light imprint on higher education policy so far. In 2005, she proposed a successful amendment to block the federal government from establishing a student unit-record database, and she has been critical of the Education Department's efforts to crack down broadly on for-profit higher education. Beyond higher education, she has broken into the public spotlight primarily because of her outspoken nature -- occasionally getting herself into trouble, as when she suggested in 2009 that the story behind the 1998 hate-crime killing of Matthew Shepard was a hoax.

Foxx agreed to answer questions from Inside Higher Ed about her views and agenda for the new Congress. The exchange follows:

Q. You are one of the few members of Congress to have worked in higher education. How did that experience shape how you view higher education now that you're in Congress?

A. Both my work experience in higher education and my other life experiences have shaped my views. I spent many years working in administration and teaching in university and community college settings. Additionally, I served 12 years on a local school board, which also provided a unique outside perspective on higher education.

Together these experiences have helped convince me that government funding for higher education is most effective the closer the funding source is to the institutions. This is why I support focusing our efforts on state and local government and removing much of the federal red tape, mandates and funding mechanisms that hinder innovation and accountability.

Q. What do you perceive to be the biggest problems facing American higher education right now?

A. Though perhaps not unique to higher education, a major problem facing institutions of higher education is the delay in fully grasping the magnitude of the fiscal problems facing our country. Many sectors are grappling with this issue and higher education is by no means exempt.

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