Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: How Advocacy Influences Policymaking

By Allie Bidwell, Communications Staff

While federal financial aid programs have been reshaped since 2008, the higher education community is still in dire need of a comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), according to an article in the special edition of NASFAA’s Journal of Student Financial Aid.

Since the last reauthorization of HEA, financial aid policy changes have become caught in the crosshairs of a highly politicized climate in Congress and the budget process. As a result, “last minute policy tweaks” in the budgeting process – such as the loss of graduate student interest subsidy on loans and the elimination of the year-round Pell Grant – have had major repercussions for students, writes Megan McClean Coval, NASFAA’s managing director of policy and federal relations.

“This patchwork, budget-based policymaking has been detrimental to students and families, as well as those trying to serve the needs of federal student aid recipients – financial aid administrators,” Coval writes.

While the road to reauthorization is slow and often complicated, advocacy work can influence the outcome of the federal policymaking process.

NASFAA has structured its work to influence the reauthorization advocacy and outreach around the process for how a bill becomes law, although there are often roadblocks along the way. NASFAA’s advocacy around the use of prior-prior year (PPY) income data on the FAFSA, for example, began with a foundation of research and recommendations to demonstrate the impact of the change.

After reaching out to legislators, particularly those serving on the House and Senate education committees, the idea caught the attention of Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who worked with NASFAA to introduce a bill calling for a move to the use of PPY income data.

Other legislators, including former Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), showed support for PPY through HEA reauthorization drafts, and the White House subsequently announced in September that it would mandate the use of PPY through an executive action.

Still, the reauthorization process has been derailed by partisan politics, the budgeting process, and the two-year election cycle, Coval writes. As the process continues, NASFAA will remain involved in advocating for policy recommendations member-based task forces have identified, such as changing the structure of the campus-based aid allocation formula, streamlining consumer information, and improving the student loan servicing process.

“While slow, at least there is a process, unlike the aforementioned budget-driven decision making that takes a scalpel to the federal student aid programs to solve a big math problem,” Coval writes. “As an organization advocating to improve our nation’s policies on higher education access and persistence, we’ll take thoughtful deliberation over haste any day.”


Publication Date: 11/10/2015

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