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Policy & Advocacy

Higher Education Policy/Student Aid

APLU actively monitors and engages in higher education policy discussions with both Congress and the Obama Administration. Of primary interest on the Congressional side, the Higher Education Act (HEA) was last reauthorized in 2008 and is currently up for renewal.  The White House and the Administration have been also very active in their interest in the higher education space, with Department of Education rulemaking, White House summits on college access, and their proposal for a college rating system.

 

  • Lifting the Federal Ban on Better Higher Education Data

    One of the biggest problems within higher education is the lack of comprehensive, accurate data on student outcomes at each college and university in the U.S. We simply do not know enough. As a result, students and families are left in the dark as they make the critical decision of which college or university is the right fit; policymakers struggle to appropriately hold accountable institutions receiving taxpayer dollars; and institutions lack the information they need to assess their performance and improve.

    Learn more about how APLU is helping to lead the campaign to lift the data ban and shed light on student outcomes such as post-collegiate employment and accurate graduation rates.
     

  • Congressional Action on HEA Reauthorization
     

    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.

  • Administration's College Ratings Proposal

    In August of 2013, President Obama announced a plan, A Better Bargain for the Middle Class: Making College More Affordable, which included mention of the Administration's intent to tie financial aid to institutional performance via a college ratings system. The concept of a federal rating system of institutions has generated much interest within the higher education community and beyond.

    After several nationwide forums and an initial call for feedback on the ratings idea, the Department of Education released a draft framework for a college ratings system in December 2014. This proposal, which still includes many unanswered questions as to the final product, continues to stress the goals of measuring and improving higher education access, affordability, and outcomes. The Department intends to release “version 1.0” of a ratings system by the start of the 2015-2016 school year.

    Concerned by the complexities of the Obama administration’s proposed higher education ratings plan and the practical challenges of implementing it, APLU has developed a proposal that shares the underlying, broad goals of  President Obama's plan, but does not rate or rank institutions. APLU feels it is important to reaffirm public universities’commitment to transparency and accountability with a practical alternate plan.

    In brief, APLU’s proposal is twofold. On the transparency side, the plan calls for more accurate, straightforward information about all postsecondary institutions that is sufficiently disseminated to potential students and families. To achieve increased accountability, APLU’s proposal calls for all institutions to be judged on three factors—progress and completion rates for all students (using the Student Achievement Measure outcomes), loan default and repayment rates, and post-collegiate outcomes such as employment and advanced education. In order to fairly make comparisons between all institutions, APLU calls for the development of a student readiness index to account for varying student bodies. Schools that fared extremely poorly after such an adjustment would gradually lose their eligibility to accept Title IV money and would lose all eligibility if they didn’t turn things around. Schools that perform well could be rewarded with additional aid eligibility.
     
    For further details on the APLU's response to the Administration, please read about our College Transparency and Accountability plan here.
     
  • Campus and Student Safety

    There is no issue more important to universities than providing a safe and secure educational environment for students, faculty, and staff.  APLU welcomes the opportunity to engage with Congress on how the federal government can partner with institutions of higher education to ensure campuses foster an environment for learning and personal growth.  We continue to engage partners in government, including sponsors of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, on how we can work together to accomplish shared goals of preventing sexual assaults and when necessary supporting victims.