Loan caps, accreditation overhaul among Trump's goals for Higher Education Act
- The White House on Monday released its priorities for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), marking the first time the Trump administration has shared a broad higher ed policy agenda and echoing its budget blueprint, released last week.
- On its list are streamlining accreditation and organizing accreditors based on institutions' missions rather than geography; adding risk-sharing between colleges and students over federal aid; implementing reforms to income-based loan repayment; and capping parent and graduate student borrowing.
- It also asks Congress to pilot a "market-driven workforce development" program, to offer Pell Grants for short-term programs and to expand the Federal Work-Study program.
The pieces could be falling into place for reauthorizing the HEA, which has not been overhauled since 2008 and is overdue for a rewrite. But similar efforts last year lost momentum, and another partisan stalemate is not out of the question.
Among the movements so far in the direction of reauthorization: The House and Senate have both set up hearings with their respective education committees to discuss their HEA priorities; and each chamber last week put forth companion bipartisan legislation in support of student-level outcomes data collection.
Reauthorization was encouraged in the president's fiscal year budget proposal, announced last week, which said the White House would "support congressional efforts to modernize and reauthorize the Higher Education Act to be responsive to the needs of both students and employers."
In a conference call on Monday, a senior administration official told reporters the White House hoped for a reauthorization bill as soon as possible but supports the timeline set by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who has said he hopes to pass bipartisan legislation by year-end.
The White House's HEA proposals align with elements of its proposed budget. That includes eliminating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and other income-based repayment plans and replacing them with a single option capped at 12.5% of a borrower's monthly discretionary income. It also looks to "extend loan forgiveness to all undergraduate students" after 180 months of income-driven payments.
Monday's proposal additionally asks Congress to limit how much graduate students and parents can borrow under the federal PLUS loans, though it didn't specify limits. And while it noted interest in collecting program-level outcomes data, the senior administration official said it doesn't have a position on the legislative approach taken.
Higher ed leaders have voiced their priorities for HEA reauthorization, too. Last week, the Higher Education Committee of 50 issued a set of three dozen recommendations on topics ranging from federal student aid to support for online learning. They, too, asked for a broad student-level data collection system. They also want to expand Pell Grant access.
Meanwhile, colleges, regulators, accreditors and the U.S. Education Department are at work rewriting key regulations governing higher ed. Among them are accreditors' oversight responsibilities (also a prong of the White House's HEA agenda), allowances for alternative education delivery models (the White House brings up support for prior learning assessments in its pitch), and more generally the future of online education.
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