The House and Senate committees that oversee higher education policy this week held their first hearings in 2019 on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA). The HEA authorizes various programs within the Department of Education, including the federal aid programs that support students pursuing a postsecondary education, and has not been renewed since 2008.
House Committee on Education and Labor Chair Bobby Scott (D-VA) held the first of five scheduled bipartisan HEA hearings Wednesday on the topic, “The Cost of College: Student Centered Reforms to Bring Higher Education Within Reach.” The committee previewed some of the topics covered in a report released the Friday before the hearing. That report concluded that though there are issues with the affordability of higher education, a college degree has significant value.
At the hearing, a panel of speakers discussed a range of challenges facing low-income students in accessing higher education, as well as the factors driving rising tuition rates. Particular attention was paid to the large role state disinvestment in public higher education plays in college costs, as well as the role state programs (particularly in North Carolina and Tennessee) have played in holding down costs for low-income students. The panel also included a low-income student who detailed the challenges she faced in completing her associate’s degree and transferring to a four-year institution, and the assistance she needed (including food and housing supports) beyond financial aid.
Meanwhile, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee held a hearing Tuesday on “Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Simplifying the FAFSA and Reducing the Burden of Verification,” picking up where it left off in the 115th Congress. The hearing reflected the longstanding interest of Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) in revising and simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Committee members heard from a panel of experts in student financial aid about their experiences working with students applying for college and the challenges imposed by the complexity of the current system. Both Alexander and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the ranking Democrat, have laid out their HEA priorities in recent speeches, and there is strong bipartisan consensus on the necessity of simplifying and streamlining the FAFSA.
For more information on HEA reauthorization, click here.