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ACE, Other Higher Education Groups: HEA Bill Being Rushed Through Committee Without Clear Understanding of Consequences

December 11, 2017

House Education and the Workforce Committee set to mark up bill tomorrow at 10 a.m.

​ACE and 36 other higher education associations sent a letter​ today to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce as it begins the process of reauthorizing the primary federal law governing higher education, last updated in 2008.

The committee is scheduled to mark up the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act (H.R. 4508), introduced by Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), tomorrow, Dec. 12. Given the limited time to provide feedback—the bill was just introduced on Dec. 1—the associations are requesting that the committee delay marking up the bill to allow more time for analysis and input.

They write that on quick review, there are some welcome provisions in the bill. However, overall the proposals would make higher education more expensive for millions of students and families and significantly change federal higher education policy without a clear understanding of the likely consequences.

“Coinciding with the House’s passage of H.R. 1, this marks the second time in less than a month that the House of Representatives has moved to significantly increase the cost of higher education for low- and middle-income Americans,” the groups write, referring to the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which currently is in final negotiations to reconcile House and Senate versions of the tax bill. 

Among the PROSPER Act provisions the associations support, the legislation would provide a bonus to Pell Grant recipients to incentivize completion, simplify the process of applying for federal aid, eliminate origination fees on student loans, provide statutory authority to accreditors to use risk-based or differentiated accreditation procedures, and provide institutions the authority to limit borrowing. 

However, other portions of the bill have the potential to upend the system of federal financial aid by cutting programs, restructuring policies, and imposing new regulations that are harmful to students and families. 

Among the programs slated for elimination or reduction: 

  • The in-school interest subsidy for undergraduate students 
  • The Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program 
  • Loan forgiveness and other benefits currently available in the student loan programs 
  • Title III-A Strengthening Institutions Program
  • The Teacher Quality Partnership Grants program reduced by $50 million

Graduate students would be hit hard, losing Federal Work-Study eligibility and having their federal graduate loans limited, forcing them to borrow at higher cost and with fewer protections in the private market. (See “Reversal on Student Lending” in this morning’s Inside Higher Ed.)

The bill does strive to reduce unnecessary or duplicative regulations on students and institutions by incorporating some of the recommendations from the report of the bipartisan Task Force on Federal Regulation of Higher Education. However, these proposals are offset by other changes that would add burden and complexity, such as requiring weekly or monthly disbursements of student aid. 

Compounding these problems, the associations write, this bill would weaken the federal government’s ability to prevent fraud and abuse in the federal aid system, and even expand the availability of aid to the institutions where the greatest abuses have occurred. Minority-serving institutions (MSIs) are singled out for the toughest scrutiny, with the legislation tying Title III and Title V funds for MSIs to their ability to graduate or transfer 25 percent of their students. 

For more information on the bill, see this summary prepared by ACE. The House Education and the Workforce Committee will be webcasting the mark up beginning tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. ET. 

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