Democrats on House Education Committee Take Community Recommendations for HEA Reauthorization

By Allie Bidwell, Communications Staff

Members of the higher education community presented ideas for consideration in the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) during an open forum hosted by the Democratic caucus of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Wednesday.

The members heard from those who represent both two-year and four-year institutions, faculty members, student advocates, and education policy think tanks. Several panelists presented ideas to make college more accessible and affordable by streamlining and enhancing certain student aid programs, expanding access to alternative methods of education, and providing relief to students burdened by student loan debt.

"Today, a college education is a need rather than a want," said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), the ranking member of the committee. "The importance and benefits of going to college are due in large part to the investments we’ve made in postsecondary education through the Higher Education Act. … Unfortunately today we find the promise of HEA has eroded, and many students … are in jeopardy."

The committee heard from two panels of five witnesses, including:

  • Kati Haycock, CEO of the Education Trust
  • Veronica Gonzales, vice president of governmental and community relations at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley 
  • Dr. Henry Tisdale, president of Claflin University and chair of the government affairs committee for the United Negro College Fund
  • Lindsey Burke, the Will Skillman fellow in education policy at The Heritage Foundation 
  • J. Noah Brown, president and CEO of the Association of Community College Trustees 
  • Jim Grimes, an adjunct broadcast instructor at Kankakee Community College, and a member of the National Education Association Board of Directors
  • Paul Dannenfelser, a representative of the American Federation of Teachers and a United Academics of Philadelphia activist and adjunct faculty member 
  • Jen Mishory, executive director of Young Invincibles 
  • Maggie Thompson, executive director of Generation Progress
  • Maureen Hoyler, president of the Council for Opportunity in Education

To lower the cost of college in the first place, several panelists suggested rebuilding and strengthening a federal-state partnership that would encourage states to begin reinvesting in their higher education systems, and maintain certain levels of funding from year to year.

Others, including Gonzales and Tisdale, suggested that utilizing dual enrollment programs can help students earn college credit while still in high school and give them the motivation they need to persist through college at a lower cost. Several panelists also suggested that leveraging alternative educational delivery methods, such as online education or competency-based education, can give more flexibility to diverse student populations at a lower cost.

Some also advocated for simplifying and streamlining certain federal student aid programs. Burke said, for example, that some programs have become duplicative and unnecessary, and have allowed for a sharp increase in tuition levels –– an idea known as the Bennett Hypothesis.

Nearly every panelist also expressed support for expanding the federal Pell Grant Program by reinstating the year-round Pell Grant, and allowing for Pell bonuses in certain circumstances. Many also suggested that it’s possible to help students while in school by moving toward making debt-free or tuition-free public college a reality, giving students the ability to refinance their loans, and allowing for more counseling to prevent overborrowing.


Publication Date: 3/3/2016

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