The Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, was originally intended to expand the federal government’s role in higher education policy, including provision of federal financial assistance to students, specifically those from lower- and middle-income families. HEA created federally funded student aid programs and financial support for programs and institutions serving specific types of students intentionally to encourage those who historically didn’t consider college to complete some postsecondary training.
HEA includes authorization language, which creates, extends, or makes changes to a federal program, and specifies the amount of money that the government may spend to carry out the program. Authorization is the first step in funding a program with federal money and is required before funds can be appropriated through the annual budget process. Authorizations allow Congress to allocate funds to a particular program, but don’t always require that funding be allocated to those programs. Appropriations are the annual allocations of federal funding to programs. This two-part process of authorization and appropriations means that even though a program is authorized, it may not have funds appropriated in one or more years sufficient to support it. For this reason, it’s important to pay attention both to what programs are authorized in HEA and to what programs are included in annual budget requests and appropriations bills.
Federal funding for higher education institutions and students are authorized through HEA, so it is vital that student affairs professionals engage in advocacy to support students and student aid around HEA reauthorization. By far the largest section of the bill is Title IV, which governs all federal financial assistance to students, including, but not limited to:
Titles III and V of HEA also provide significant financial support for minority-serving institutions and teacher education programs.
Though sometimes assumed to be one of the Titles of HEA, Title IX, which is the federal civil rights law pertaining to sex discrimination in education, is part of the Educational Amendments of 1972 to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Because it involves enforcement and adjudication of civil rights protections at institutions of higher education, however, legislators will sometimes include amendments or revisions to Title IX in HEA reauthorization bills.
HEA was due for reauthorization in 2013 but has been delayed and is still being debated and discussed by Congress. The key education committees in both chambers of Congress have held hearings on HEA-related topics and issues for the last several years, though neither committee passed a comprehensive bill until 2017. In the House of Representatives, Chairwoman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce (Ed & Workforce) Virginia Foxx (R-NC) introduced a comprehensive reauthorization of HEA on December 1, 2017: the “Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform Act” (PROSPER Act). Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) had indicated that the committee was working on a comprehensive HEA reauthorization bill due to be released in spring 2018, but has recently indicated that bipartisan talks have stalled and Senate legislation is not expected this year. Unfortunately, it’s increasingly unlikely that we will see a reauthorization passed by either chamber before the midterm elections in November. It’s possible, however, that this Congress may pass an HEA reauthorization bill after the elections, during what’s called the “lame duck session” before newly elected members take office in January. Therefore, engaging in advocacy on HEA with current Congressional Members is still important.
Maintain in-school loan interest subsidies. Six million low-income student borrowers benefit from the in-school subsidy for undergraduate Stafford loans; removal of the subsidy, as done in the PROSPER Act, would increase the cost of student loans by thousands of dollars. Analysis completed by ACE determined that an undergraduate student who borrows $19,000 over four years and makes all payments on time would see a 44 percent increase in the cost of the loan.
Preserve SEOG & PSLF programs. Congress should preserve both the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) program, which serves 1.5 million students annually, and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which encourages graduates to go into nationally important but low-paying fields such as teaching and social work.
Support graduate education. In addition to the costs changes to SEOG and in-school loan subsidies would impose on them as undergraduates, the removal of graduate student eligibility for Federal Work Study (FWS) and limitations on the amounts they can borrow through federal loan programs would force graduate students to borrow more in the more expensive private market.
Expand Pell access. NASPA supports expanding access to federal Pell funds to more students, including incarcerated individuals through the Second-chance Pell Pilot Program and to those pursuing short-term certificate programs.
Continue the gainful employment and borrower defense regulations. Expanding pathways to successful completion of postsecondary credentials will only be in the nation’s best interest, however, if the programs eligible for these funds have demonstrated that they provide value to students. NASPA supports continuing the gainful employment and borrower defense regulations both for the protection of students and the responsible stewardship of federal student aid resources.
Close equity gaps. NASPA encourages legislators to pay specific attention to closing equity gaps.
Simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). NASPA supports efforts to simplify the FAFSA, especially those that would allow individuals to apply from a mobile device, use skip-logic to limit the number of questions asked of those without complicated financial situations, and otherwise make the application more accessible to current and prospective students.
Raise your voice with #SAadvocates around the country by reaching out to policymakers on the National Student Affairs Day of Action (NSADA), July 17, 2018! We’ll be providing sample letter templates reflecting NASPA’s position and priorities for HEA reauthorization as well as a one-pager and background briefing on the NSADA Resources page by the end of June. Join us on June 28 at 2:30 p.m. ET for a free half hour live briefing where we’ll review the NSADA resources on HEA, free speech on college campuses, Title IX, and immigration and international students!
Photo: President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Higher Education Act at Southwest Texas State College on November 8, 1965. Image in public domain.