U.S. House Advances Higher Education Legislation

This week the U.S. House of Representatives took action on two bills related to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

The Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act (HR 4983) eliminates the College Navigator and the accountability lists put forward by the U.S. Department of Education. The website and lists would be replaced by the College Dashboard Website. The new website, developed and maintained by the Department of Education, would include institutional-level information including enrollment data, completion rates, costs, financial aid offered and cohort default rates.

The Advancing Competency-Based Education Demonstration Project Act of 2013 (HR 3136) would relax financial aid rules to allow institutions to offer competency-based degrees. Several amendments were offered and accepted to the Act, including language to pilot the use of the tax return as the FAFSA.

The bills, introduced in June, are part of a series of bills advanced by the House to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. The bills now go to the U.S. Senate for consideration. The fate of the House bills is unknown. The Senate has decided to pursue a comprehensive approach to the reauthorization, instead of the piecemeal approach advanced by the House. Therefore it is unlikely that these bills or any other legislation related to the reauthorization will see any significant movement until the new Congress enters in January 2015.

Comparing Reauthorization Proposals

The National College Access Network provides a comparison chart of the three emerging proposals to reauthorize the Higher Education Act:  U.S. Senate Democrats, U.S. Senate Republicans, and the U.S. House Republicans.

Lead Democrat Releases Plan for HEA Reauthorization

On the heels of the Republican release of their proposal to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, the Democrats released a “discussion draft” yesterday.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chair of the Senate education committee, released a draft proposal that will remain open for public comment through August 29.  In an outline of the proposal, the Senator put forward the following concepts:

  • Increase affordability and reduce college costs for students by creating a state-federal college affordability partnership to increase state investment in higher education and lower the costs of tuition for students.
  • Reinstate year-round Pell Grants.
  • Eliminate origination fees on federal Direct Loans.
  • Support community college and industry partnerships that promote innovation in higher education.
  • Expand access to dual enrollment and early college high school programs.
  • Strengthen student loan servicing standards through the creation of common-sense consumer protections.
  • Streamline repayment plans to create a single income-based repayment option.
  • Automatically enroll severely delinquent borrowers into income-based repayment.
  • Allow private student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy.
  • Reform abuses in the collections process and reduce unfair fees.
  • Provide student and policymakers with more meaningful disclosures and accountability metrics for institutions, including loan repayment rates.
  • Establish a risk-sharing commission to explore holding low-performing institutions financially responsible for poor student outcomes.
  • Protect taxpayers by changing the 90-10 rule for for-profit institutions to 85-15.
  • Guarantee that federal education dollars are not used on advertising and marketing.
  • Create a student complaint system to better track harmful practices.
  • Authorize several programs to reform and improve teacher and school leader preparation.
  • Provide notification to middle and high school students of their potential eligibility for federal aid.
  • Provide better up-front information and disclosures to prospective students.
  • Standardize the financial aid award letter .
  • Strengthen entrance and exit loan counseling.

 

Higher Education Act Reauthorization Proposals Emerge

This week the Republicans in the House and Senate released proposals to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

Senate

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the Republican  leader on the U.S. Senate education committee unveiled his plan for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.  Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) focused his proposals on changing federal student aid programs.

Alexander’s legislation, which is cosponsored by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), would:

  • Eliminate the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). In its replace the legislation would require students and families to provide only their family size and household income. Currently the FAFSA asks more than 100 questions about their finances.
  • Restore year-round eligibility for Pell Grants and provide more flexibility for how Pell Grants are used by students.
  • Streamline federal student aid programs. Among the changes would be the creation of a “one grant and one loan” structure.

House

Representative John Kline (R-MN), the Chair of the U.S. House education committee unveiled his plan for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.  The House Republican proposal would:

  • Update the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) to capture data on non-traditional students.
  • Streamline information to students with a focus on greater coordination among federal agencies to avoid duplication and increase transparency.
  • Enhance financial literacy.
  • Prevent the implementation of a federal government rating system of colleges and universities.
  • Streamline federal student aid programs by creating a one grant, one loan and one work-study program.
  • Streamline repayment options for students, creating a two options a standard repayment plan and a modified income-based repayment plan.
  • Create the  ”Flex Pell Grant” which would allow a student to learn of the amount of Pell funds he/she is eligible to receive over a six year period and then be able to draw funds as needed until the student either completes an academic program or exhausts the allocated funds.
  • Ensure the long-term stability of the Pell Grant program.
  • Encourage online learning by minimizing laws and federal regulation barriers.
  • Create a competency-based education demonstration project to allow institutions to explore new ways of providing education to students and require evaluations of these programs.
  • Support at-risk and minority students through reforms to improve college access programs and maintain vital institutional aid programs.
  • Eliminate overly burdensome federal regulations.
  • Strengthen teacher preparation programs by streamlining existing federal programs, reforming reporting requirements, and facilitating partnerships between school districts and institutions of higher education to reform preparation and better connect pre-service training to in-service practice.
  • Rebalance the responsibility for program integrity by recognizing the important role of the accreditation.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chair of the education committee, is expected to release his proposal later this week.

Quarterly Revenue Forecast Released

This afternoon the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council released the June revenue forecast.

The forecast shows that the general fund revenue forecast will increase by $157 million for 2013-15.The forecast for the 2015-17 biennium also increased by $238 million.

The Washington economy continues to grow slowly,  with employment rising in most sectors except aerospace and federal government.

The next revenue forecast is scheduled for release in September.

 

Eastern Washington University Names New President

This week Eastern Washington University named Dr. Mary Cullinan to be the 26th president of the institution.  Dr. Cullinan comes to Washington from Oregon as the president of Southern Oregon University since 2006.  She will continue her thirty-four years of extensive higher education experience on August 1 as the President of EWU.

Dr. Cullinan will replace Dr. Arevalo who announced his retirement earlier this year.

President Purce Addresses the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

Yesterday in the other Washington Evergreen’s smallest public baccalaureate institution shined as a national leader in the advancement of higher education for Native American students.

Invited by the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, President Purce addressed members about the history and continuing efforts of the College to advance higher education for Native American students as part of the Senate’s work ”Indian Education Series: Examining Higher Education for American Indian Students.”

Purce spoke to the College’s history and current work of Evergreen’s Native American academic and public service programs. And he shared with the Committee the future direction Evergreen as an evolving part of the College’s identity. He closed his remarks with,

The decisions we make today will have implications long into the future. Now is the time as we would say at Evergreen to “Dig Deep” and ensure that there is a national commitment to advancing higher education for American Indian students today and for generations to come, in partnership and collaboration with tribes. We must make an investment to ensure that American Indian students have access to higher education, have the resources necessary to be successful, and that they graduate with the skills and credentials they need to make a difference for their communities and their families.

The stakes are too high not to. We live in an increasingly complex world, and tribal leaders are challenged to respond to the very real impact of climate change and other threats to the environment, threats to tribal sovereignty, and other challenges. At the same time there are unprecedented opportunities through various kinds of economic development, changing technologies and the fastest growing demographic—Native youth. Well educated tribal members can help negotiate the changing terrain on behalf of their communities.

The landscape in higher education is changing quickly and dramatically. The students in higher education and those at the doorstep are more diverse racially, ethnically and financially. If the United States is to be competitive globally well into the twenty-first century we must make sure that no one is left behind and that each student is able to reach behind and pull the next generation through.

As stated by Vi Hilbert (1918-2008), Upper Skagit Elder and Daniel J. Evans Chair Scholar (1995),  “When I first walked on that campus (Evergreen), the beautiful thing that I felt there was the Spirit. The Spirit said ‘Come. This is a place for people to hear what your ancestors wanted you to pass on.”

President Purce’s testimony can be viewed at the 1:45 mark.

The Obama Administration Expands Loan Program to Older Borrowers

Yesterday, President Obama directed his Administration to make an additional 5 million existing student loan borrowers eligible for the federal government’s  - Pay As You Earn - income-based repayment program.

This change will allow all who borrowed federal direct loans as students, regardless of when they borrowed, to cap their payments at 10 percent of their monthly incomes. In addition any remaining loan debt would be forgiven after twenty years.  Currently loan forgiveness is only available to borrowers who first took out a loan after September 30, 2007 and continued borrowing after September 30, 2011.  It is worth noting that the change to loan forgiveness eligibility was set to become an option for all new borrowers beginning July 1.

The Department will begin the process to amend its regulations this fall with a goal of making the new plan available to borrowers by December 2015.

Obama also directed the U.S. Department of Education to increase outreach to better publicize the income-based repayment programs through targeted outreach and to study how to more effectively counsel borrowers.  The Administration will also renegotiate its contracts with loan servicing companies to encourage them to do more for struggling borrowers.

The plan to expand income-based repayment plans was critiqued by congressional Republicans, raising concerns about the cost to taxpayers and the administration’s legal authority to make the change without legislation passed by Congress.

Governor Inslee Signs Legislation to Ease Transition for Student Veterans

This afternoon Governor Inslee signed into law two pieces of legislation that will ease the transition from military service to higher education.

Senate Bill 5318 removes the one-year waiting period for veterans or active members of the military for purposes of eligibility for resident tuition and Senate Bill 5969 provides for awarding academic credit for military training.

Governor Signs Legislation to Improve Business Practices and Reporting for Higher Education

This afternoon Governor Inslee signed into law legislation to make changes to business practices resulting in greater efficiency and effectiveness for Washington’s public baccalaureate institutions and community and technical colleges (HB 2613).

The bill provides higher education institutions permissive authority to prorate paychecks for faculty on nine-month appointments and change payroll frequency from semi-monthly to biweekly and makes changes to existing reporting requirements.

The Governor will also sign a series of education-related bills later this week including legislation to place in statute the education attainment goals in the Washington Student Achievement Council’s ten-year roadmap (HB 2626) and create a legislative work group to ensure the College Bound program is viable, productive and effective (HB 6436).

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