NAICU Washington Update

New Higher Ed Bill Signed by President

The new Higher Education Act reauthorization, passed by Congress just before the August congressional recess, was signed into law by the president on August 14.  The legislation received strong bipartisan support, and was approved by large majorities of both the House and Senate.

The bill's completion is mostly welcome news for higher education.  Although most college advocates don’t see the bill as an improvement over current law, it does contain many important compromises on key issues to colleges – such as provisions on cost and accountability.  The compromises have made many of the legislation's provisions a vast improvement over many of the earlier versions that have floated around Washington in the past four years.

Among the gains college leaders feel they have achieved are a clear and unambiguous restriction on the Secretary's ability to regulate student learning, no price controls, no federal mandates on transfer of credit policies, reasonable student loan disclosure policies, and increases in the allowable funding levels for Pell Grants.

On the down side, colleges face an increased array of reporting requirements that will add significantly to their regulatory burden.  The additions include provisions relating to textbooks, illegal file sharing, vaccines, missing students, and fire safety, as well as new categories for campus crime reporting and graduation data.  (Details on how NAICU fared on many of its most visible issues are in NAICU’s “HEA Accomplishments and Compromises” chart.)

While many of the bill's provisions will be effective upon the bill’s signing, the more complex provisions – including most new reporting requirements – will not become effective until the 2009-10 academic year.  Many of the provisions must go through a formal negotiated rulemaking process, which is essentially a series of publicly-negotiated regulation writing sessions taking months to implement.  For more in-depth information on key HEA provisions, see the 24-page “Summary of Major Provisions in the HEA Conference Report” prepared by the congressional conferees. Note that this is not a NAICU document.  However, we are currently preparing materials to help college presidents identify the key elements they need to know about the new law.

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