- The education committee of the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives released its proposal Tuesday to overhaul the Higher Education Act (HEA).
- Called the College Affordability Act, it includes prioritizing federal funding for states offering free tuition programs at community colleges that let students use other forms of aid for nontuition costs, as well as maintaining funding for public higher education.
- The package comes as the clock winds down on the window during which higher ed observers have said a run at reauthorization is possible this year.
The House proposal would also streamline student loan repayment options, simplify the FAFSA, raise the stakes for colleges on student outcomes, and expand Pell Grants and index the award to inflation to maintain its value. And it reflects the ethos, if pared back, of many Democratic presidential candidates' higher ed platforms, which focus strongly on debt forgiveness and free tuition as ways to increase college access.
Further, a $500 million fund will be available for states that join the proposed federal-state partnership to help them adopt evidence-based reforms and practices. To qualify, states must identify gaps in per-student spending and academic achievement.
But the idea of expanding the federal government's investment in higher ed doesn't align with Republicans' priorities, meaning the gridlock around a more comprehensive overhaul of the HEA could continue, The Washington Post reported.
Federal funding to higher ed climbed in the last decade as states pulled back their support, according to a recent analysis from The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Congress last reauthorized the HEA in 2008. Lawmakers have extended it since then, but progress toward a broader update stalled last year when the Democrats and Republicans put forth bills that didn't secure bipartisan support.
Earlier this year, college officials across the U.S. issued a list of three dozen recommendations for HEA reauthorization. They include:
- Making the FAFSA easier for students and their families to parse.
- Supporting more online instruction.
- Expanding Pell Grant access.
- Tightening Title IV funding rules for for-profit colleges.
The group also recommended Congress lift the ban on collecting student unit-record level data and to develop a centralized system for doing so.
The House's proposal would strike the ban. It also calls for a system that uses student-level data to evaluate colleges across outcomes such as transfer rates, employment and post-graduation earnings, disaggregated by race.
Areas of the House bill that could win bipartisan support, The Post notes, include proposed FAFSA changes and removing the ban on Pell Grants for individuals who are incarcerated.
Across higher ed, reviews of the proposal are mixed. In a statement, Ben Miller, vice president for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress said the "bill shows the importance of a comprehensive solution" to higher ed's biggest challenges.
Meanwhile, Terry Hartle, senior vice president of government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, told The Post that the bill could increase colleges' costs and needs to be clarified.