With less than a month to go before the August congressional break, the House Education and the Workforce Committee dove headlong into the Higher Education Act (HEA) last week, passing three bills as the initial legislative action of its reauthorization effort.
HEA is the primary law that governs federal financial aid and other programs that support higher education in the United States. Last reauthorized in 2008 after five years of temporary extensions, it is now running on yet another extension after expiring at the end of FY 2013.
The three House bills are:
The Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act (H.R. 4984): To ensure financial counseling for students who take out student loans. Sponsored by Reps. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) and Richard Hudson (R-NC).
The Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act (H.R. 4983): To strengthen and streamline transparency in higher education. Sponsored by Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Luke Messer (R-IN).
The Advancing Competency-Based Education Demonstration Project Act (H.R. 3136): To expand competency-based education where it is currently prohibited by statutory and regulatory requirements. Sponsored by Reps. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), Susan Brooks (R-IN) and Jared Polis (D-CO).
ACE and a group of higher education associations sent a letter July 9 to the committee in advance of the markup providing initial observations about the legislative package. The letter expresses general support for the House HEA process, while noting that the bills will need to be carefully shaped as they move forward.
“For example, we believe that institutional graduation rate calculations and other data outlined in H.R. 4893 need to be modified to accurately reflect the diversity of American colleges and universities,” the groups wrote. “Similarly, we strongly support your goal of ensuring that students fully understand their educational debt and their overall student aid packaging, but are concerned that some of the provisions in H.R. 4984 might add to complexity rather than reduce it.”
It is unclear how much further the House will be able to progress on these measures this year—when Congress returns in September, much of the fall will be absorbed by the upcoming midterm elections.
Two HEA bills have been introduced in the Senate, one a comprehensive piece of legislation by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and the other a measure by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) that focuses on a number of specific issues. However, the timeline of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is not yet known.
House Starts In On HEA
Inside Higher Ed (July 11, 2014)
In Passing 3 Bills, House Panel Takes First Step to Renew Higher Education Act
The Chronicle of Higher Education (July 10, 2014)