House Looks Set to Mark-Up Major HEA Bill

The House Education and Labor Committee is slated to begin the mark-up of its 1,165 page rewrite of the Higher Education Act (HEA) on October 29.  The bill under consideration, the College Affordability Act, was introduced by Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) and would affect nearly every aspect of campus life.

When the bill is marked up, the committee is likely to work from a revised version of the original bill that was introduced earlier this month.

Once the bill is approved by the committee, the panel will seek a cost estimate before attempting to take the bill to the House floor for full approval.  Although that process could take some time, Chairman Scott has indicated that he wants to bring the bill to the full House before the end of the year.  The real test of the bill’s strength, however, will happen before the bill goes to the floor while the committee seeks enough votes from the full House for the bill to be approved.
Although it is unclear how many changes the revised bill will contain, one expected modification is further clarification to the accreditation language in order to make proposed federal benchmarks on student completion and workforce participation less rigid.
In general, the bill generously funds federal student aid programs, but at a significant regulatory cost to colleges. Among the provisions NAICU opposes are a proposal for Free Community College, the aforementioned accreditation provisions, extensive new reporting requirements, and the creation of a federal tracking system of current and former college students (although this provision includes several important student privacy safeguards). 

Key Provisions – Student Aid

Key provisions related to federal student aid include:
  • A $500 increase in the maximum Pell Grant award.
  • The preservation of SEOG, including the new emergency grant funding for students in short term crisis.
  • The expansion of Federal Work Study.
  • The reinstatement of the Perkins Loans Program.
  • Bonus grants provided to institutions with more than 25% low-income students that graduate bachelor degree students who receive Pell Grants on time.
  • Provisions allowing Pell Grant recipients who have not exhausted all their undergraduate Pell eligibility to carry the remainder on to graduate school.
  • The elimination of origination fees on student loans.
  • Enhanced and streamlined loan forgiveness and public service loan forgiveness programs.
  • Maintenance of current loan limits, including for parents and graduate students.
  • No limitations for selecting a major for those students who receive federal grants or loans.
Key Provisions – Regulatory

In contrast, the list of new regulations levied on colleges is expansive and includes extensive reporting, administrative, and educational requirements that would require institutions to:
  • Establish hazing and harassment policies, report hazing and harassment incidents, and develop a hazing education program.
  • Establish policies regarding expectant and parenting students.
  • Comply with extensive new disclosure requirements regarding crimes committed during study abroad.
  • Designate a coordinator under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
  • Create an Office of Accessibility.
These requirements for institutions would be compounded by other provisions in the bill that would require:
  • An increase in Clery Act violations fees from $25,000 to $100,000.
  • The Secretary of Education to conduct undercover and secret shopper operations to detect misleading admissions and financial aid practices.
  • States to identify low performing teacher preparation programs by assessing the outcomes of students taught by graduates of individual colleges and universities.
  • A lowered 10% threshold for default rate cut-off, which is below the average national default rate.  The bill would also change how the default rate cut-off is calculated, so it is almost impossible to know how this provision might impact an institution.
NAICU developed a more detailed summary of key provisions contained in the original bill.

Despite these provisions, the bill does improve institutional reporting requirements in two major areas. First, the bill would require the Trump Administration to return to the long-standing $250,000 threshold for institutional reporting of foreign gifts. Second, the bill would impose important limits on the authority of the Secretary of Education to issue Title IX regulations. As a result, the bill would preserve the ability of institutions to choose the disciplinary process that best fits their campus.
On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee continues with its partisan divide (link to story on Alexander bill from recent issue).  This week, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the HELP Committee Chair, introduced another version of his student aid simplification bill, The FAFSA Simplification Act. Sen. Alexander’s move further angered Senate Democrats who continue to say they will not work on anything other than a comprehensive rewrite of the HEA.   

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