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President to President
Molly Corbett Broad's weekly email newsletter to higher education leaders.

Congress Unveils HEA Reauthorization Plans

June 23-27, 2014 ~ Vol. 15, No. 22

  • House and Senate Unveil Higher Education Act Reauthorization Plans
  • Senate Holds Hearing on Efforts to Address Campus Sexual Violence
  • House Marks Up Student and Family Tax Simplification Act
  • Senate Approves Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act
  • ED Delays State Authorization Rule Implementation
  • Q&A Now Available on Military Tuition Assistance MOU

Both the House and Senate made significant moves forward this week in their efforts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA), the sweeping law governing the federal financial aid and other programs that support U.S. higher education. As you know, the current HEA expired at the end of 2013, and the law is now running on a temporary extension while Congress works on new legislation.

Senate Democrats introduced a comprehensive HEA bill Wednesday. The 785-page measure covers numerous areas, including 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. This follows the introduction last week by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) of a multi-faceted HEA bill that would, among other provisions, dramatically simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Meanwhile in the House, Republican lawmakers issued a white paper 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.

The House will take a more incremental approach to HEA reauthorization than the Senate. Rep. John Kline (R-MN), chair of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, is planning to introduce a handful of smaller bills that address various aspects of their plan. The Education and the Workforce Committee late yesterday introduced three of those bills. This strategy is aimed at winning broader, bipartisan support for the legislation.

There are some areas of agreement between the House and Senate plans. For example, both would streamline student loan repayment plans, overhaul teacher preparation programs, slim down the FAFSA and make Pell Grants available year-round. Lawmakers also agree on the need to improve student financial literacy and to simplify and better target the information provided to prospective students and families. But any final reauthorization bill likely will 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 the HEA recommendations we submitted last summer to the House Education and the Workforce Committee, click here.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions held a hearing yesterday on "Sexual Assault on Campus: Working to Ensure Student Safety," continuing the federal government's efforts to weigh in on this very sensitive and complex issue.

I sent a letter to the committee in advance of the hearing, outlining the efforts colleges and universities are making to enhance educational programs to prevent sexual assaults and ensure a prompt, supportive and equitable response when they do occur. I outlined steps Congress could take to help support these programs and facilitate our response to campus assaults, including more funding for research into education and prevention training programs; clarifying the trio of federal laws-the Clery Act, Title IX, and the Violence Against Women Act-that address campus sexual assault; and removing federal barriers that undermine our ability to work closely with local law enforcement agencies when these cases arise. I also described some of the difficulties brought about by the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights policies and procedures in this area and how they might be resolved.

For more information and a webcast of the hearing, see the committee's website.

The House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday voted 22-13 to approve legislation to consolidate four higher education tax provisions into one.

The Student and Family Tax Simplification Act (H.R. 3393) would combine the Hope Credit, the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC), and the tuition deduction into a single AOTC and make it permanent. The opening statement by Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), lead sponsor of the bill with Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), is available here.

While we support consolidating current student tax credits and making the AOTC permanent—along with provisions that make an important fix to the interaction between the AOTC and the Pell Grant—unfortunately, we cannot support this bill. As we told committee leaders in a letter, the improvements come at the expense of graduate and adult students who use the tuition deduction or the LLC, as well as many low- and middle-income undergraduate students. We will continue to work with the committee to address these concerns.

Meanwhile in the Senate, the Finance Committee held a hearing Tuesday to examine how the tax code can be leveraged to reduce student debt. More information and a webcast of that hearing is available here.

The Senate voted 95-3 Wednesday to give final approval to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (H.R. 803).

The bill, which is especially important to community colleges, would streamline the federally funded system of workforce development programs, ending 15 of them and shrinking state and local workforce investment boards. It would also apply a standard set of outcome measures to evaluate all federal job-training programs.

This is the first time Congress has renewed the WIA, which was initially signed into law in 1998. The measure was due to be reauthorized in 2003, but periodic efforts over the years to renew it have never gotten through the Senate until now.

The bill now goes to the House, where its fate is unclear, but Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chair of the House Education and the Workforce's Higher Education and Workforce Training Subcommittee, says she is “cautiously optimistic.”

The Education Department announced Monday that it will delay for the second time the enforcement of its state authorization rules, originally scheduled to go into effect in 2013.

ED initially delayed enforcement until July 1, 2014. This second delay pushes the enforcement date back to July 1, 2015. The rules in question require institutions to be explicitly authorized by their home states by name and require states to have in place appropriate levels of oversight of institutions, as determined by ED. There has been a tremendous amount of confusion on this front, including questions about which states have acceptable levels of oversight.

While Monday’s announcement did not apply to distance education programs, ED Under Secretary Ted Mitchell told attendees at the Council for Higher Education Accreditation conference Wednesday that the administration also would not develop a new state authorization regulation for these programs before its Nov. 1 deadline.

Colleges and universities have until July 23 to sign the new memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the Department of Defense’s Tuition Assistance (TA) program. We have prepared a document addressing some questions and answers that may arise as you prepare to sign the MOU, available here.

The new MOU was written in response to the Obama administration's April 2012 "Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service Members, Veterans, Spouses and Other Family Members." This was an effort to make certain that service members have the information, support and protections they need to receive a quality postsecondary education, as well as ensure proper oversight of TA dollars. DoD has also posted Frequently Asked Questions regarding the MOU, available here.

All institutions participating in the TA program, even if they have signed an earlier iteration of the MOU, will need to sign the latest version.

Along with the National Association of College and University Business Officers, we will disseminate materials to campuses in the next several months with more information about the MOU requirements.

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE