NAICU Washington Update

House Education Committee Considers Higher Education Act Reauthorization

December 20, 2017

In a marathon markup which lasted 14 hours and witnessed the consideration of more than 60 amendments, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce has passed out of committee its vision for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.  Dubbed the PROSPER Act, the legislation is expected to be considered by the full House of Representatives in early 2018, and it is clear the House could pass the bill in short order. Action on Senate companion legislation is pending, but the timetable is uncertain.
An initial analysis of the bill, which was introduced on December 1, 2017, included highlights of key provisions found in the legislation.  Also, the Committee’s website includes a webcast of the markup, links to opening statements, and a complete list of amendments that were considered by the committee during the markup.
Of the 63 amendments that were considered, 19 were accepted. Of particular note, the Committee approved overarching changes from Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and several amendments on specific issues, including:
  • Revisions to the bill by Chairwoman Foxx
    • The bill would prohibit colleges that officially recognize single-sex social student organizations from regulating how those organizations recruit new members or determine their membership.
    • The legislation would require a complete review of federal college data reporting requirements.
    • The Secretary of Education would be authorized to conduct a study on how data from the National Student Clearinghouse might be used to get policy makers the information they desire on enrollment, retention, transfer, completion, and post-collegiate earnings.
    • The Education Department would be given new authority to stop Pell Grant payments to students it determines have an “unusual enrollment history,” unless a college financial aid office is able to show otherwise.
    • The bill would exempt private student loan servicing companies from state laws requiring them to be licensed or paying fees to state regulators.
    • The legislation would establish a new process by which religious colleges could complain to the Education Department about an accrediting agency’s decision — and the Department could order the accreditor to reverse the decision.
    • An “independent commission” would be created to “develop voluntary guidelines for accessible postsecondary electronic instructional materials.”
  • Free speech
    • The Committee adopted an amendment that would establish an Education Department process to handle complaints from students who allege that their institution of higher education has failed to disclose or to adhere to its speech policies.
  • Student loan fraud claims
    • In a bipartisan vote, the Committee approved an amendment that would require the Department to process claims submitted under the borrower defense to repayment provisions in a timely and efficient manner.
  • Plain language disclosure
    • The Committee adopted an amendment requiring the Secretary of Education to develop and use a plain language disclosure form for student borrowers.
In addition, several amendments that were rejected or withdrawn are worth noting. These included amendments related to:
  • Student unit record data ban
    • Despite bipartisan support for overturning the ban on student unit record data systems, Committee Republicans deferred to Chairwoman Foxx and voted to reject an amendment that would have repealed the ban.
  • Pell bonus
    • Committee Democrats joined with Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI) to attempt to strike the $300 Pell Grant bonus award for students who take 30 credits in an academic year because Democrats believe the maximum award should be raised for all students. The amendment to remove the bonus award failed on a 20-20 vote.
  • Public service loan forgiveness
    • Several Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues in voting for an amendment that would restore the public service loan forgiveness program, but the amendment was narrowly defeated.
  • Clery Act amendments on sexual assault
    • The Committee rejected an amendment offered by Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) that would have struck Clery Act changes related to sexual assault counselors, investigations, and standards of evidence. However, Chairwoman Foxx vowed to work with Democrats to clarify the intent of reporting requirements with respect to counselors.
The Committee has indicated there will be more changes to the bill before it goes to the floor. It is expected that additional changes will be made once it is taken up in the Senate.
For more information on the student aid provisions, contact Tim Powers.
For more information on the definitions and accountability provisions, contact Jody Feder.
For more information on non-Title IV programs, contact Stephanie Giesecke.

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