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 Congressional Committees Release Higher Education Act Proposals 

6/27/2014

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee majority Democrats released a draft Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization bill, the Senate HELP Committee Republican leadership released a shorter bill revealing some of their HEA priorities, and the House Education and the Workforce Republican leadership issued a white paper outlining some of their reauthorization priorities, followed shortly by three bills focused on specific topics.

The Senate Democrats' draft legislation, the Higher Education Affordability Act, is the most comprehensive of the three. It contains a number of items long championed by HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, as well as other committee Democrats. As its name implies, it emphasizes provisions aimed at reducing the cost of college for students, including by improving loan repayment options, creating a program to incentivize state investment in higher education, and supporting dual enrollment programs, among other things. The bill contains some community college priorities, including reinstatement of year-round Pell Grants and a community college-industry partnerships program similar to the Community College to Career Fund originally proposed by President Obama and championed by Sen. Al Franken. It also contains a number of provisions to increase institutional accountability, including those aimed at for-profit institutions. AACC has summarized key points of Title I and Title IV of the draft bill.

The Senate Republican draft bill, the Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency (FAST) Act, is focused on a few particular issues, and is not a comprehensive reauthorization bill. It would shorten the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to a postcard with two substantive questions, provide the ability for families to learn earlier how much student aid a student may be entitled to, consolidate grant and loan programs, restore year-round Pell Grants, make loan eligibility dependent on enrollment status, and streamline the numerous loan repayment options into two plans.

Rather than draft legislation, the House Education and the Workforce majority leaders issued an 11-page white paper that outlines some of their HEA reauthorization priorities. The paper emphasizes the importance of collecting and providing information that will actually help students select among colleges, improving the financial literacy of college students, and calls for consolidating existing federal grant and loan programs into one grant, one loan and one work-study program. It also takes a strong stand against college ratings, and proposes a "Flex Pell Grant" that would give the student greater discretion in drawing down their Pell Grant funds when they need them. It also calls for reducing overly-burdensome federal regulations.

The three bills they released the following day would require the Education Department to use prior, prior year income information for needs analysis, implement new loan and grant counseling requirements, and streamline the College Navigator website.

All of these recent releases are significant steps in a reauthorization process that most believe will extend into at least next year.

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