Throughout its history, NAICU has been heavily engaged in HEA reauthorization discussions, and we continue to be active participants in the process.  We have focused on assuring that programs and policies are shaped in a way that recognizes the needs and diversity of independent higher education, while also participating in higher education community-wide efforts that support all students and institutions.


The Higher Education Act (HEA) sets out the requirements that students, institutions, and others must meet in order to participate in federal student aid and related higher education programs.

The HEA is updated periodically through a process known as reauthorization, which last occurred in 2008. The Act is behind schedule for reauthorization, although important groundwork has been laid.  Members of the House and Senate education committees are primarily responsible for developing HEA reauthorization legislation.

The Process Stalls Again

After a failed attempt to rewrite the HEA in 2017-18, both parties in the House and the Senate again engaged in more meaningful conversations about how to get a bill done in the 116th Congress.  The lead bi-partisan Senate staff were holed up behind closed doors in the summer of 2019, hoping to have a bill ready for mark-up that fall.  Although conversations stalled, negotiations began again in January of 2020, and significant progress was made.  But then the pandemic hit and all attention was turned toward legislation to help higher education and K-12 get the support needed to address the crisis. As this session of Congress comes to a close, it is likely the process will be taken up again in the 117th Congress.

The 116th Congress began with the House Committee on Education and the Workforce holding five bi-partisan hearings in early 2019, but committee members were unable to agree on bi-partisan legislation.  Instead, the Chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, Rep, Bobby Scott (D-VA), introduced a comprehensive HEA rewrite in early October.  The committee approved the bill two weeks later by a party-line vote.  Rep. Scott then began actively seeking enough co-sponsors among Democrats to bring the bill up for consideration in the full House by March of 2020.

NAICU has serious reservations about certain aspects of the bill, particularly provisions for free community college, but supports the proposed increases in federal student aid.  The bill also proposes greater federal guidelines on accreditation, numerous new reporting requirements, a redistribution of campus-based aid that favors large institutions over small, and teacher education provisions that are reminiscent of older proposals from the Obama Administration. 

The current process is the next phase in an effort that made significant progress in the House in the last Congress.  On December 1, 2017, House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) introduced a comprehensive rewrite of the Higher Education Act.  Just ten days later, and with only modest changes, the legislation was passed by the committee along a party line vote.  NAICU expressed serious reservations about the bill's effects on students which are reflected in the bill summary prepared by NAICU staff.  Rep. Foxx did not receive enough support to bring her bill up for consideration by the full House.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) began its work several years ago with preliminary, bi-partisan conversations. Early work included a string of hearings in early 2018, as well as a bi-partisan request for reauthorization proposals, which NAICU responded to both on its own and as part of the broader higher education community. In addition, Committee Chair Sen, Lamar Alexander (R-TN) released his own white paper on accountability to which NAICU also responded.  However, as the House failed to act, and political and policy tensions started to affect conversations in the Senate, the Committee was unable to find common ground on a bill.

The Lead Up to Reauthorization