The Senate and House are moving forward on preparations to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA), the primary law governing federal higher education programs, which expires in December.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) held the first of a series of hearings yesterday on the law, focusing on “the triad,” the combination of the federal government, accreditors and states that oversees American higher education, and its role in enforcing the HEA.
ACE Senior Vice President Terry Hartle discussed the Education Department’s (ED) role in this arrangement, explaining that ED has increasingly turned to accreditors over the past 20 years for help. Left unchecked, he explained, this trend threatens to make accreditors a regulatory enforcement arm of the department.
Also testifying at the hearing were Paul E. Lingenfelter, former president of the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association; Susan D. Phillips, provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University at Albany, SUNY; and Marshall A. Hill, executive director of the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements.
The committee has planned 12 HEA hearings for the coming months. Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) released a letter this week outlining the hearing process and the way in which they will request recommendations from students, parents, the higher education community and other stakeholders.
Meanwhile in the House, the Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training continued laying its groundwork for HEA reauthorization this week, with a hearing on how to improve college access and affordability. Witnesses highlighted institutions that are forming innovative partnerships with private sector entities to help reduce costs, strengthen degree programs and enrich coursework to better meet the needs of a changing student body.
Congress last reauthorized the HEA in 2008 with passage of the Higher Education Opportunity Act—five years late and after an unprecedented 14 extensions of the statutory deadline. These hearings are just the opening shots in what promises to be another extended process, although Harkin Thursday said his goal was to produce a reauthorization bill in early 2014.
To read recommendations from ACE and the higher education community for what Congress should focus on in reauthorization, click here.
Inside Higher Ed