The 114th Congress began 2015 with a busy education agenda, including plans to reauthorize both the Higher Education Act (HEA) and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The education committees of the Senate and House are both starting with the ESEA reauthorization, with the HEA reauthorization slated to be taken up as soon as the secondary education bill is completed.
However, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and a bipartisan group of Senators have already re-introduced the Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency (FAST) Act, S. 108, a bill first introduced last summer. The legislation would drastically shorten the FAFSA form, increase access to loan eligibility at an earlier age, reestablish year-round Pell grants, limit borrowing, and consolidate the loan repayment options to a standard 10-year plan and an income-based repayment plan. It is also consolidates grant and loan programs, which would result in the loss of certain current programs and benefits. Chairman Alexander has stated he plans for the FAST Act to start as the basis for the Committee's work on HEA reauthorization later this year.
Most recently, Chairman Alexander has released three HEA related white papers for public feedback. The papers offer proposals and ideas on accreditation reform, accountability through risk-sharing, and data collection and consumer information. The Senate HELP papers can be found here. APLU submitted a response to each white paper.
Higher Education Act Reauthorization Efforts in 2014
Despite not reauthorizing the HEA in 2014, a number of legislative measures were rolled out related to higher education policy and student aid in 2014 that we may see, in whole or part, in this current Congress.
Near the end of last Congress, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), the then-Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, introduced his plan for an HEA reauthorization. Over 800-pages long, The Higher Education Affordability Act (HEAA) focused on college affordability, accountability, transparency, and over borrowing. With Senator Harkin's retirement and the switch of majority party in the Senate, we do not expect to see HEAA reappear this year. However, portions of the bill may still hold interest, particularly among Senate Democrats.
On the House side, the Committee on Education and the Workforce released an HEA white paper that outlined the Republican priorities for reauthorization. The measures include streamlining information, simplifying student aid, increasing completion rates, and ensuring accountability. The House passed three small HEA-related bills in 2014, which we expect to reappear in the 114th Congress. They include H.R. 3136 Advancing Competency-Based Education Demonstration Project, H.R. 4983 Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act, and H.R. 4984 Empowering Students Through Financial Counseling Act.
APLU Comments on HEA Reauthorization
In August of 2013, APLU submitted formal comments on APLU HEA Reauthorization priorities to the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
In 2014, APLU formally commented on the 2014 HEAA discussion draft offered by then Senate HELP Chairman Tom Harkin.