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Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA)

Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA)

Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa): Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Rep. John Kline (R-MN), Chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee

After Senator Tom Harkin introduced draft legislation for overhauling the Higher Education Act, House Republications, led by Representative John Kline, introduced a whitepaper and several bills with the same goal. The Higher Education Act is far reaching. It has guidelines and regulations for all federal student loan programs, and it can provide reforms for consumer information related to access and affordability. It also includes efforts for improved K-12 teacher preparation, among other elements related to accreditation and educational quality. There is bipartisan support for:

  • Year-round Pell Grants
  • Financial advising for students and an income-based student loan repayment program
  • Updates to the FAFSA application processes
  • Promotion of competency-based learning
  • Improvements in teacher preparation programs

However, differences between Democrats and Republicans will continue to take shape as hearings prevail, many of which are occurring with mid-term elections in the background. Senator Harkin’s plan provides for new federal accountability measures for institutions and new guidelines aimed at for-profit institutions—limiting their receipt and use of federal funds, including no federal dollars for recruiting and marketing.  A commission would also come out of this plan as a way to hold “low-performing institutions financially responsible for poor students’ outcomes.” Many of the Republican bills (developed from the white paper) assert that institutions should be responsible for their sticker prices and their students’ abilities to pay or take out loans.  They are concerned about government regulations on tuition and fees that could interfere with state and board responsibilities. Kline stated that he hopes less regulation will give colleges “flexibility to innovate.”  The plan also eliminates the Administration’s plan to rate colleges and universities, which has raised concerns with many boards (mentioned in a previous blog post) and eliminates regulations on the definition of a credit hour and new rules on gainful employment. Although HEA is gaining attention, and some votes could take place before the November elections, reauthorization could take years (if history repeats itself).

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