NAICU Washington Update

Senate Staff Moving Ahead on HEA

January 29, 2020

The constant Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization seesaw continued as soon as the second session of the 116th Congress got underway earlier this month.  While the House hoped to bring its bill, the College Affordability Act, to the floor by early February, the momentum in the chamber has slowed, turning attention on reauthorization back to the Senate.
In the midst of a divisive impeachment trial, the key higher education staff for Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) are once again working in earnest on a bi-partisan HEA bill.  They are starting with the various bi-partisan Senate HEA bills introduced over the past few years. 
Should a Senate bill emerge, it is likely to be much less expensive than the House bill, and focus more on issues such as simplifying need analysis, redistributing campus-based aid, redoing current tools, such as net-price calculators, and mandating uniform student aid award letters. While each of these are controversial in their own right, the biggest issues on the table are likely to be how to forge a bi-partisan agreement on sexual assault, and what to do about state defunding of public colleges.  Additionally, the issue of whether bright line accountability measures should be added to the HEA to remove institutions from federal student aid programs if they fail to reach a to-be-determined threshold on issues such as investment in instruction, graduate student earnings or revised default rate formulas, could be contentious as well.
The House, in the meantime, is looking for ways to pay for its bill and does not expect floor consideration before March.

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