HOUSE DEMOCRATS RELEASE HIGHER EDUCATION REAUTHORIZATION PROPOSAL

Last week, ranking member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce Congressman Bobby Scott joined House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman Susan Davis and other House Democratic leaders to unveil their plans for reauthorizing the Higher Education Act. Their plan, dubbed the “Aim Higher Act” includes provisions to “give every student the opportunity for a debt-free college degree that leads to a rewarding career”. To accomplish this, the Democrats’ comprehensive debt-free college plan would commit additional funding to states to invest in their public colleges and universities in exchange for states offering two years of tuition-free community college.

The bill also contains a lot of other wins for students and consumers such as the expansion of Public Loan Service Forgiveness (PSLF), provisions for campus-based child care, and preservation of Borrower Defense to repayment rules. Additionally, aid programs would get a boost, by way of eliminating loan origination fees and making Pell grant funding mandatory while indexing the annual award increases to inflation.

For schools and colleges, it’s a mixed bag of expanded eligibility, and oversight, particularly aimed at the for-profit sector. The bill would expand federal student aid eligibility to “quality short-term programs”, those less than 600 hours in length, but would also prevent for-profit schools and colleges from including Veterans Educational Benefits in their calculation of the 90/10 revenue test. Another provision in the bill, would limit a school’s ability to spend “taxpayer money” on lobbying, marketing, and recruitment at institutions that don’t spend the majority of their federal student aid dollars on instruction.

With the midterm elections coming up, it’s unlikely that Republican or Democratic lawmakers will move to reauthorize the Higher Education Act before then. One thing’s for certain, the AIM HIGHER Act and the PROSPER Act vary drastically in approach and ideology, as do the current political parties. As in years past, you can bet the debate on the future of higher education will be front and center as the fight for control of the House continues this election season.

You can access key documents prepared by the Education & The Workforce Committee Democrats here.

LATEST ON HEA REAUTHORIZATION

Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act is starting to look more and more like a reality. The Senate HELP Committee raised the priority of HEA reauthorization after Republicans on the House Education Committee approved the PROSPER Act, H.R. 4508. The PROSPER Act made everyone in Higher Ed pause and consider that Higher Ed could change in novel ways, but it was so partisan that has very little change of ever passing a vote. The Senate Education Committee on the other hand has been busy trying to tackle Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act too, but in a more bi-partisan way.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN.), the Republican chairman of the Senate education committee, has been working with the ranking member, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA.), to rewrite the 53-year-old Higher Education Act. Over the last few weeks the senate has been hearing testimony from experts and they are rumored to be released before the spring.

REGULATIONS INCREASE ADMINISTRATIVE BURDEN IN HIGHER ED

October 1st marks the beginning of the Federal Government’s new Fiscal Year. It’s an election year and although Higher Education has been in the political spotlight on both the Trump and Clinton campaigns, the long overdue Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act isn’t likely this year. Education is hot stuff for political fodder and Republican and Democrat Reauthorization plans couldn’t be further apart, making it unlikely that the house and senate will put a cohesive bill in front of the president by the end of the year. Instead we may see a number of smaller bills put forth for consideration as the Obama Administration’s days come to a close.

 The Obama Administration’s legacy is one of costly regulation. According to a Wall Street Journal Article, the current administration has instituted more than 600 major rules and 50 more may follow by the end of the year. In fact, the Obama Administration has approved more major rules than any other president at an estimated cost of more than $743 Billion to U.S. businesses. This increase in regulation creates massive administrative burden for businesses. And for colleges, which are already famous bureaucracies, the cost of maintaining compliance has skyrocketed. And it’s not showing any signs of slowing.

 In the last year, colleges have seen the introduction of Early FAFSA using Prior-Prior-Year Income and with it, we expect to see more time spent resolving conflicting information between award years. Gainful Employment reporting is driving everyone crazy and soon we’ll be dealing with new rules for distance education and Borrower Defense. Outside of the FA office, we’ve got Title IX compliance. Somehow we have to get it all done… and to think that there’s more coming down the line is overwhelming. But you’re pros. You’ve got this.

 Some of the ideas being kicked around include FAFSA Application simplification, flexible Pell Grants, enhanced financial aid counseling and moves to further limit the amount of federal funding proprietary institutions can receive to 85%. We may see ATB come back, Selective Service provisions eliminated, and moves to support wider adoption of free community college. The question is, whether we’ll see these things come to pass during the lame duck months following the election or later, in reauthorization.