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Senate Unveils Bill to Reauthorize the Higher Education Act

June 25, 2014

Capitol columns

House Plan Would Take Incremental Approach

​Senate Democrats today introduced legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA), the sweeping law governing the federal financial aid and other programs that support higher education in the United States. 

The bill calls for new accountability measures for colleges, grant programs addressing affordability, a crackdown on for-profit colleges, and increased benefits and consumer protections for student loan borrowers.

Meanwhile in the House, Republican lawmakers issued a white paper yesterday outlining their reauthorization priorities. Their plan includes streamlining student aid and loan repayment programs, encouraging online and competency-based learning, and eliminating many regulations affecting colleges, including new rules on gainful employment, federal definition of credit hour, and state oversight of colleges. It also would block President Obama’s plan to rate colleges.

As The Chronicle of Higher Education writes this morning, broadly speaking, the Senate Democrats favor top-down accountability for colleges while the House Republicans prefer a limited federal role, although there are some areas of agreement between the two plans. Among these areas, both would streamline student loan repayment plans, overhaul teacher preparation programs, slim down the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and make Pell Grants available year-round.

Lawmakers also agree on the need to improve student financial literacy and simplify and better target the information provided to prospective students and families.

However, as Libby Nelson of Vox points out, “If Congress writes a bill with just what legislators agree on from these two proposals, they'll end up with streamlined income-based repayment and some kind of way to let students receive Pell Grants in the summer. And that's about it.”

Inside Higher Ed reports that House Republicans will take a more incremental approach to HEA reauthorization than Senate Democrats, whose proposals are all packaged in the bill released today. Rep. John Kline (R-MN), chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, is planning to introduce a handful of smaller bills starting this week that address various aspects of their plan. This strategy is aimed at getting broader, bipartisan support for the legislation.

But HEA is likely to evolve slowly over months, or conceivably over years, if history is any guide. Last reauthorized in 2008 after five years of temporary extensions, the process is complicated this year by the upcoming midterm elections.

To read ACE’s recommendations for the HEA submitted at the request of the House Education and the Workforce Committee last summer, click here.

Also see:

Senate Bill to Renew Higher Education Act Is Democrats’ Wish List
The Chronicle of Higher Education (sub. req.) (June 19, 2014)

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