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.
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.