HEA Reauthorization Update

Congress is poised to debate the reauthorization of the Higher Education Action (HEA).  The House Committee on Education & Workforce Committee reported out the Higher Education Reauthorization bill, the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity Through Education Reform Act –the PROSPER Act—right before the holiday recess, on December 12, 2017.  The bill introduced just a week before being reported out of committee, can now go the House floor for a vote.

A companion bill in the Senate has not yet been introduced, but is anticipated. According to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) Senate Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and former US Secretary of Education, says he aims to include a provision in the HEA to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The Senate committee plans to take up the bill in early 2018.  The AACC also reports that low-income students attending community colleges have disproportionately low FAFSA completion rates, and miss opportunities to access financial assistance because the current FAFSA process is too complex.

Originally enacted in 1965, the HEA authorizes the federal policies and programs that apply to colleges and universities in the United States.  There are approximately eight broad sections (or titles) in the HEA governing programs related to teacher development, strengthening institutional capacity, student loans, financial assistance and services programs.

The House bill contains some proposals that have received initial support from the higher education community, such as the $300 Pell bonus for students who take 15 credits per semester; the elimination of origination fees on student loans; and streamlining the application for student financial assistance.  Even so, other proposed provisions invite opposition from stakeholders in Washington, DC and across the nation.

Controversial provisions include: repeal of the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) program; the eventual sunset of the HBCU programs authorized under Title III, Part B; provisions related to free speech, including hate speech; repeal of certain loan forgiveness programs; protections for religious groups; provisions related to sexual assault; and other items.  A comprehensive analysis published by the American Council on Education (ACE) serves as a good resource.

Student Loans.  See PoliticoPro analysis of proposed changes to student loan programs