The Trump administration on Monday released its priorities for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), with proposals focusing on institutional accountability, curbing student loan debt, and increasing the use of alternative pathways to a higher education.
The reauthorization document comes just one week after the administration released its fiscal year 2020 budget proposal, which puts forth suggestions for massive cuts to federal student aid programs by eliminating some programs while significantly cutting funding for, or consolidating others. In its reauthorization proposal, the administration said it is seeking to “increase access to affordable, flexible, and innovative postsecondary education and skills attainment to meet the interests and lifelong learning needs of every American.”
“We are taking action to provide students, families, and working Americans better and clearer information; encourage innovation and reduce college cost; ensure that students of faith are able to attend schools that reflect their values; and require that institutions live up to their promises regarding campus free speech,” the proposal said. “The Trump Administration is committed to reforming higher education through legislation and regulatory reforms that provide more Americans access to a quality education, hold institutions accountable, and help students and families make informed decisions regarding their educational options.”
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement that there is a need to "rethink higher education."
"We must do better for our students and workers. There should be multiple educational pathways to a successful career, and the federal government shouldn't pick winners and losers amongst them. At the same time, higher education should be more affordable, nimble and relevant. Institutions of higher education need to be freed-up to implement new ideas that could fill the many gaps between education and the economy," DeVos said. "The higher education reform principles released today provide an important roadmap for working with Congress to rethink higher education and pass meaningful reforms. Ideas like simplifying loan repayment, short-term and second-chance Pell and streamlining the FAFSA are common-sense, bipartisan and should be passed immediately.
With regard to curbing student loan debt, the administration recommended giving financial aid administrators the authority to limit loans in certain circumstances—a change that NASFAA has long advocated for. The administration also suggested that Congress require institutions to provide “more regular, effective financial aid counseling.” NASFAA has supported Congress giving institutions the authority to provide annual counseling. Given the growing interest, NASFAA convened a task force of practicing financial aid administrators that is currently examining the implications and challenges of annual counseling and working to identify potential areas for consumer testing and evaluation.
The administration joined many lawmakers in a call to simplify the student loan repayment system by consolidating the current income-driven repayment (IDR) plans into one. It also suggested extending loan forgiveness to all borrowers after making payments for 180 months, or 15 years, in an IDR plan. The administration said in the proposal that doing so would “support all American students—pursuing any career—and eliminate the biases and administrative complications of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness [PSLF] program.” The president’s budget proposal would eliminate the PSLF program.
It also urged Congress to allow the Department of Treasury to automatically share with the Department of Education income tax data with the permission of the borrower, as outlined in the Faster Access to Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Act of 2018. Under this concept, supported by NASFAA, the data could be used for filing the FAFSA, and applying for and renewing enrollment in income-driven repayment programs.
The administration has repeatedly called for the flexibility for alternative pathways to a higher education, and in the reauthorization proposal suggested creating a pilot program to “increase access to market-driven workforce development programs,” such as accelerated paths to careers.
The proposal also recommends expanding Pell Grant eligibility to cover “high-quality, short-term programs” through which students earn credentials, certifications, or licenses in high-demand fields, and altering the Federal Work-Study (FWS) program to allow for “career-oriented” job opportunities that are not necessarily campus-based jobs.
“Work-based learning improves students’ chances of developing important workplace skills and getting good jobs, yet the FWS rules favor campus-based jobs that do little to help low-income students get work experience that increases their chances of landing a higher paying job upon graduation,” the proposal said.
Congress last week again kicked off its reauthorization efforts with dual hearings in the Senate and House education committees. The Senate focused on FAFSA simplification and verification burden, while the House dialed in on college cost and affordability. The House education committee plans to hold four more bipartisan hearings on topics for reauthorization.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Senate education committee, said in a statement that he shares the administration’s “goals to make a college education worth it and to make it simpler to apply for federal student aid and pay back student loans.”
He said it would be “helpful to have these suggestions” as he continues to work with Ranking Member Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) to “develop bipartisan recommendations so that we can report legislation to the full Senate before summer.”
Murray, on the other hand, said in a statement that the proposal does not address the underlying causes for some problems in higher education.
“The White House’s proposal is a feeble attempt to claim the Trump Administration is helping students by identifying one symptom of rising student debt, while completely ignoring the root cause—that college costs are rising exponentially and most students can’t afford college without taking on massive amounts of debt," Murray said. "In fact, this proposal would end up hurting students by reducing the amount of federal aid for students and taking billions out of the pockets of borrowers. Chairman Alexander and I have agreed to work toward a comprehensive reauthorization that makes college more affordable, so I look forward to working with him to find real and serious solutions that actually help students afford higher education.”
Publication Date: 3/19/2019