NAICU Washington Update

House Education and Labor Committee Hearing Restarts HEA

March 22, 2019

The House Committee on Education and Labor held its first higher education-related hearing of the 116th Congress on March 13th, titled: The Cost of College: Student Centered Reforms to Bring Higher Education Within Reach. The panel was the first in a series of five announced hearings, covering a variety of topics related to a renewed effort to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.
In his opening remarks, Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) cited the hearings as the chance to “begin the process of finding areas of common ground” between Democrats and Republicans in HEA reauthorization. The chairman mentioned state disinvestment in public higher education institutions as one of the driving factors in the rising cost of college and accumulated student debt. He called on Congress to make efforts to combat these issues by encouraging more state and local investment in public colleges and universities, restoring the purchasing power of the Pell Grant, and by making student loans cheaper and easier to pay back.
Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-NC) cited her desire to see more institutional accountability in a rewritten HEA, and noted her belief that the complexity of the federal student aid programs is one of the drivers of student indebtedness. While highlighting the success of the Pell Grant program and her commitment to its preservation, Congresswoman Foxx also expressed her desire to see short-term job training programs become eligible for Pell Grants in order to see “a higher, faster, and more satisfying return.”
Witness testimony focused on various elements of cost drivers and potential solutions to help keep college within reach for students and their families. There was consensus among the witnesses that a college degree remains an exceptionally valuable investment, as well as the importance of the Pell Grant to providing access and opportunity to American students.
The House hearings come at a time when higher education policy is heating up in Washington. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) have each recently outlined their top priorities as party leaders on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, with their respective staffs working closely together to draft a bill. Chairman Alexander has stated his desire to see a draft bill introduced by the end of 2019.
The White House has also been actively engaged in higher education policy, having recently outlined its vision for HEA reauthorization in three distinct ways: (1) President Trump’s FY2020 budget request; (2) the publication of an Executive Order regarding campus free speech, the addition of program-level data on the College Scorecard, and institutional risk-sharing on student loans; and (3) a speech by Ivanka Trump supporting the use of Pell Grants for short-term job training programs, simplified loan repayment, and program-level outcomes. 

MORE News from NAICU