House and Senate release HEA proposals

June 26, 2014

This week, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee each released documents outlining their principles for reforming the Higher Education Act (HEA), legislation authorizing most federal student aid programs. The House Republicans released a white paper, identifying several broad principles for HEA reform, while the Senate Democrats released a draft bill for discussion.

The House Republicans’ white paper outlines four broad principles: empowering students and families to make informed decisions; simplifying and improving student aid; promoting innovation, access, and completion; and ensuring strong accountability and a limited federal role. The proposal also suggests making several key changes to current law, including reforming the Pell grant program, improving financial literacy and counseling, reducing the number of federal grant and loan programs and repayment plans, and piloting competency-based education.

The Senate Democrats’ discussion draft is also based on four broad principles: increasing affordability and reducing college costs for students; tackling the student loan crisis by helping borrowers better manage debt; holding schools accountable to students and taxpayers; and helping students and families make informed choices. NSC will release a more detailed analysis of the bill, but key changes include expanded Pell eligibility (including the reinstatement of year-round Pell and Ability-to-Benefit), establishment of partnerships between community colleges and industry partnerships, and a reduction in the number of federal repayment plans.

Both the House and Senate emphasize accountability for postsecondary institutions and propose making better data about school performance available to students and families. The House argues for improving institutional reporting through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Its proposal would also limit the federal role in accountability by preventing federal ratings of postsecondary institutions — a project underway by the Obama Administration — and eliminating the Gainful Employment regulation of career-oriented programs. In contrast, the Senate proposes broader federal action to hold schools accountable, like creating a student complaint system.

Last year, bipartisan leaders of the Education and the Workforce committee invited the public to provide input on HEA reauthorization. NSC’s response focused on increasing access to financial aid for nontraditional students, improved data collection and reporting, and stronger partnerships between postsecondary institutions and employers.

Despite releasing these documents, it’s not clear whether Congress will try to pass HEA reauthorization before the end of the year. If HEA isn’t considered in this Congress, the path forward becomes less clear, and will likely be impacted in part by the midterm elections and changes in committee leadership.

As HEA reauthorization moves forward, NSC will continue to weigh in with the committees and will provide updates as information becomes available.