The House last week approved a package of three Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization bills, sending them on to an unclear fate in the Senate.
The bills mark the initial legislative action to reauthorize the HEA, the primary law that governs federal financial aid and other programs that support higher education in the United States.
The Advancing Competency-Based Education Demonstration Project Act (H.R. 3136), passed by unanimous vote on Wednesday, would expand competency-based education where it is currently prohibited by statutory and regulatory requirements. A second bill, the Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act (H.R. 4983), also passed Wednesday.
The House wrapped up its HEA work on Thursday by passing the Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act (H.R. 4984), which would ensure financial counseling for students who take out student loans.
ACE sent a letter Tuesday on behalf of 16 other higher education associations to Rep. John Kline (R-MN), chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, calling for the full House to move those bills forward but expressing some specific concerns lawmakers should address as the process continues.
It is unknown if—or when—these bills will be considered by the Senate, which is taking a more comprehensive approach to the HEA.
The House passed one other HEA-related bill (H.R. 5134) Wednesday to extend the operations of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity and the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance for one year.
These two small agencies are authorized by the HEA and their operations will cease Sept. 30 unless they are extended. The Senate is expected to approve this measure.
Student and Family Tax Simplification Act
The House also moved forward Thursday on higher education tax reform, passing the Student and Family Tax Simplification Act (H.R. 3393) by a vote of 227-187.
ACE and nine higher education associations sent a letter to the House July 17 outlining concerns with the bill, which would permanently combine the Hope Scholarship Credit, the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC), and the tuition deduction into a single AOTC.
While streamlining these tax incentives is a positive development, the groups believe it comes at the expense of graduate and adult students—as well as many low- and middle-income undergraduate students—who use the tuition deduction or the LLC. They told House members they cannot support the legislation in its current form.
The bill’s fate in the Senate is unclear at this point.