House HEA Reauthorization Bill: Reactions From the Higher Ed Community

By Joelle Fredman, Communications Staff

While higher education professionals are still sifting through the House Republicans’ 542-page bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA) released Friday, initial reactions focused heavily on condemning proposals to cut various grant and loan programs and eliminate the gainful employment regulations.

Writers of the bill Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Brett Guthrie (R-KY) called the proposal “higher education’s long overdue reform.”

NASFAA President Justin Draeger applauded Republicans on their provisions to create a ‘Super Pell’ to incentivize students to take 15 credits a semester, eliminate origination fees, and consolidate the myriad of repayment plans. He was concerned, however, about intentions to terminate programs that help relieve students in debt.

“NASFAA opposes the elimination of all loan forgiveness provisions proposed in the bill, which will negatively impact many borrowers, but especially students attending graduate and professional schools. We acknowledge concerns about the long-term viability and administration of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, and have put forward a reasonable and responsible pathway forward that would retain these vital forgiveness programs,” Draeger said in a statement.

Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education (ACE), said in a statement that while the bill incorporates some recommendations from the bipartisan Task Force on Federal Regulation of Higher Education, it also introduces new barriers to making higher education more affordable.

“We are deeply concerned that the proposal would undermine decades of federal policy aimed at helping students at the undergraduate and graduate levels afford a high-quality higher education,” Mitchell said. “This measure would immediately lead to higher interest charges every year for some six million student borrowers and eliminate 1.5 million financial aid grants.”

Association of American Universities (AAU) President Mary Sue Coleman called the bill “seriously flawed” and said that the most troubling aspect is the intention to cut the Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) as well as loan programs for graduates students.

“It is critical that these and other student aid programs remain a national priority to ensure that all americans can attain the education and skills our 21st century economy demands. Without this support, many would-be student success stories of tomorrow may never be told,” she said in a press release.

Carrie Warrick, director of policy and advocacy of the National College Access Network (NCAN), said in a statement that while the bill would create new opportunities to help students, such as an extension of the Federal Work-Study (FWS) program, she is concerned about plans to increase borrowing loan limits.

“This bill highly prioritizes short-term programs while making significant changes to the financial aid programs that students need to access longer-term degrees. While the former option is appropriate for some students, research shows that underrepresented students are best-served at four-year institutions,” Warrick said.

The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) Vice President Debbie Cochrane said that the most harmful proposals in the bill include implementing higher monthly payments, doing away with zero dollar payments, and charging low and middle-income students interest on payments while still in school.

The higher monthly payments are a result of the decision to cut income-driven repayment plans. Those enrolled would see monthly payments set at 15 percent discretionary income with a minimum payment of $25.

“These dangerous proposals increase risks and costs to students and overshadow the bill’s potentially positive steps to modernize the federal aid application… student loan repayment plans do need streamlining, but increasing debt burdens for struggling borrowers is not the way to do it,” Cochrane said in a press release.

There are also those who commended the Republicans’ intention to shift to a one grant, one loans, one work-study system.

The White House on Friday released its list of priorities for HEA reauthorization, which closely aligns with measures proposed in the PROSPER Act.

ED Secretary Betsy DeVos also came out in support of the bill, issuing a statement that echoed her remarks from the FSA Training Conference last week about needing to modernize the financial aid process. “I’m glad that Chairwoman Foxx has put forward a bill that addresses the many challenges with a holistic, reform-minded approach,” DeVos said in the statement. “I look forward to working with Congress to help ensure students have access to lifelong learning opportunities that prepare them for success in the 21st century.”

Neal McCluskey, director of Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom, an arm of the conservative think tank, wrote in a blog post that the bill is going in the right direction to phase out financial aid.

He said that the bill “takes some small steps forward, capping total amounts students and their families can borrow from Washington, and letting schools say they won’t let students borrow a lot if the program doesn’t seem to justify it.”

Many in the higher education community also opposed intentions to cut gainful employment regulations, which require that vocational and for-profit schools report graduates’ debt-to-earnings ratios, and was implemented to sanction expensive, low-quality schools.

“Where students are the losers under this proposal, the clear winners are for-profit colleges,” Cochrane wrote. “By gutting regulations designed to ensure that schools provide the education students have paid for, this bill would have the taxpayers write a blank check to colleges that overcharge and under-deliver.”

Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, vice president for social policy and politics at Third Way, said in a press release that the bill would allow poorly-performing schools to access federal funding without any checks and balances.

“Real reform would not open up new avenues for programs with abysmal student outcomes to access more taxpayer dollars and encourage more students to leverage their futures to attend those programs, even though we know they are likely to leave with nothing to show for it,” Hatalsky said.

John B. King Jr., president of The Education Trust and former Department of Education secretary, said that the bill leaves vulnerable students unprotected from fraudulent universities.

“Though the bill acknowledges the importance of transparency, moves toward incentivizing completion, and begins to focus accreditation on student outcomes, it has significant flaws that must be addressed if we’re to ensure all students have the chance to succeed,” he wrote in a press release.

McCluskey, however, wrote that eliminating reporting requirements for schools “would free the system up a bit, but how much is unclear.”

The next step in the process to reauthorize the HEA is for the Senate to draft their proposal. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said she is hoping for a bipartisan effort to help students.

“I hope Republicans abandon these ill-conceived efforts and work with us to reauthorize the Higher Education Act through a comprehensive approach that puts students’ and borrowers’ best interests first,” she wrote in a press release.


Publication Date: 12/4/2017

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