NAICU Washington Update

HEA Reauthorization Takes a Sad and Unexpected Turn

The news of Sen. Edward Kennedy's brain tumor sent shock-waves throughout Washington. Most insiders can't fathom the Senate without its second-longest-serving and arguably most effective member as he fights this serious health problem. For education advocates, the news had special meaning, since Kennedy's hand has helped shape every major piece of education legislation since the federal role was defined in the mid-1960s.

But no one who has been around the Hill would presume that Kennedy's prognosis would slow down his legislative agenda. That might make sense for nearly any other legislator, but most insiders agree that - fighter that he is - Kennedy is just as likely to be motivated to work even harder to get passage of legislation he cares about, such as reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

In the meantime, just days before the Kennedy news broke, a very preliminary draft of the HEA conference report leaked through the Washington higher education community. Although the latest iteration is still problematic and heavy with reporting requirements, the bill continues on its path of steady improvement with each new version.

The current draft bill, for example, shows progress in nearly every area that NAICU targeted in its April action alerts - a tribute to the dogged efforts of NAICU members around the country. It continues restrictions on the Secretary of Education's authority to regulate on student achievement (though the authority was restored in other accreditation areas), and removes requirements for new endowment reporting, instructional expenditures per student, and inclusion of net-price information by income quartile in all admissions materials. The latest HEA draft also bases college cost listings on prospective tuition increases after this fall, and removes the college cost-quality efficiency task forces.

On May 21, NAICU sent its members a revised list of requests, based on the draft conference report. We hope that progress continues in what appears to be the final few weeks before a bill is adopted. We don't expect the final bill to be something that colleges will embrace as an improvement over current law. However, the legislation is shaping up as a reasonable compromise between what college advocates would like to see, and some of the truly destructive ideas lawmakers have proposed during the six-year-long reauthorization process.

MORE News from NAICU