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House Committee Releases Higher Education Act Reauthorization Bill

December 04, 2017

​Legislation includes some positive proposals, but ACE president expresses concern about overall impact on students and college affordability

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce released a comprehensive bill Friday to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA), last renewed in 2008.

The bill includes many of the recommendations of the 2015 report of the bipartisan Task Force on Federal Regulation of Higher Education. These steps will simplify and streamline federal mandates and help campuses reduce administrative costs and better serve students. 

The legislation also incorporates a number of other proposals long sought by higher education, including providing a bonus to Pell Grant recipients to incentivize completion, simplifying the process of applying for federal aid, eliminating origination fees on student loans, consolidating loan repayment to two options, and allowing institutions the authority to limit borrowing. 

However, ACE President Ted Mitchell expressed deep concern in a statement Friday that overall, the proposal would undermine decades of federal policy aimed at helping students at the undergraduate and graduate level afford a high-quality higher education. Most notably, this measure would immediately lead to higher interest charges every year for some six million student borrowers and eliminate 1.5 million financial aid grants.

“Reauthorization of this landmark law is overdue, but it is vital to undertake this complicated process in a way that does not undermine access to and the quality of postsecondary education at a time when the nation needs more of both,” Mitchell said in the statement.

And in many cases, worthwhile proposals in the bill are offset by other changes that would add burden and complexity, to the detriment of students and institutions. For instance, mandating weekly or monthly disbursals of student aid would complicate the management of the financial aid process and require institutions to move from two to as many as 50 disbursements in a year.  

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) chair of the House education committee, intends to mark up the bill in the next couple weeks, but it is unclear when the measure might reach the House floor.

For more on the House HEA bill, see these stories in The Wall Street Journal, Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education. For an​ ACE-prepared summary of the bill, click here​.

Meanwhile in the Senate, the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee is expected to work on its version of an HEA reauthorization bill on a bipartisan basis and release it next year. The committee held a hearing Nov. 28 on “Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Examining Proposals to Simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.” 

Both Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) used the hearing to signal their HEA reauthorization priorities. 

In his opening remarks, Alexander noted, “My central focus will be to make it simpler and easier for students to apply for federal aid and to pay their loans back and easier for college administrators to cut through the jungle of bureaucratic red tape.” In her remarks, Murray laid out four key areas that HEA will need to address: the increasing costs of college; college accountability and student success; addressing barriers for working families, students of color, and first generation students attending colleges; and threats to a safe learning environment. Alexander said he would be introducing new legislation soon to simplify the FAFSA by incorporating tax information already shared by families with the federal government.

An archived webcast of the hearing can be found here​.

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