The House Committee on Education and the Workforce is set to release a comprehensive bill as early as today to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA), last renewed in 2008. We believe the plan is to mark up the legislation next week, a fast-track process that does not allow much time for analysis or reaction and is designed to discourage amendments. However, it is unclear when the committee intends for the bill to be considered on the House floor. We will be reviewing the bill in detail upon its formal release, and I will have more information for you next week. However, based on what has emerged about the bill so far, there are both positive aspects to the proposal and provisions that concern us.
We are pleased that the bill includes many of the recommendations of the report of the bipartisan Task Force on Federal Regulation of Higher Education. These steps will simplify and streamline federal mandates that drive up campus administrative costs.
However, we are deeply concerned that the proposal would undermine decades of federal policy aimed at helping students at the undergraduate and graduate level afford a high-quality higher education. Most notably, this measure would immediately lead to higher interest charges every year for some six million student borrowers and eliminate 1.5 million financial aid grants.
In the interim, The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday published a series of articles about the pending legislation based on a summary the newspaper reviewed, and other media outlets followed suit yesterday—including Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Meanwhile in the Senate, the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a full committee hearing Wednesday on “Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Examining Proposals to Simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.”
Both Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) used the hearing to signal their priorities for the upcoming reauthorization of HEA. In his opening remarks, Alexander noted, “My central focus will be to make it simpler and easier for students to apply for federal aid and to pay their loans back and easier for college administrators to cut through the jungle of bureaucratic red tape.” In her remarks, Murray laid out four key areas that HEA will need to address: the increasing costs of college; college accountability and student success; addressing barriers for working families, students of color, and first generation students attending colleges; and threats to a safe learning environment. Alexander said he would be introducing new legislation soon to simplify the FAFSA by incorporating tax information already shared by families with the federal government.
An archived webcast of the hearing can be found here.