Ahead of August Recess, House Approves a Slew of Higher Ed Bills

The U.S. House of Representatives considered numerous pieces of legislation last week, ahead of the August recess, as part of its piecemeal reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Lawmakers passed two bills on Wednesday that would boost competency-based education (H.R. 3136) and streamline the information the federal government provides to prospective students (H.R. 4983). The votes marked the first time that a body of Congress has formally weighed in on the ongoing efforts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, the massive law that governs federal student aid, which expires at the end of this year, Inside Higher Ed reported.

While the approved bills have bipartisan support, it is unclear whether they will be considered by the Senate, which is taking a comprehensive approach to renewing the Higher Education Act.

The House of Representatives last week also approved a two-year extension of two key advisory committees: the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, which advises the secretary of education on accreditation matters, and the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, which advises policy makers on student aid policy, reported The Chronicle of Higher Education.

On Thursday, the House passed a measure that would expand counseling for student loan borrowers. The Empowering Students through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act (H.R. 4984) would promote financial literacy counseling for students so they have more information before making financial aid choices.

Lawmakers also approved legislation to streamline higher education tax breaks. The Student and Family Tax Simplification Act (H.R. 3393) would combine four higher education tax benefits into a new, permanent and more refundable American Opportunity Tax Credit. It would also change how the tax credit is calculated to more fully account for Pell Grant recipients. The measure is opposed by nearly a dozen higher education groups that argue it would negatively impact low-income, graduate, and adult students who benefit from the current system.

Earlier in the week, House Republicans rejected an effort to provide direct federal relief to existing student loan borrowers, reported Inside Higher Ed. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. John Tierney (D-MA), would provide students who took out a loan over the past year with a rebate for the amount they would have saved under lower interest rates. The measure is a scaled down proposal from the Democrats' student loan refinancing measure, which would have applied to all existing borrowers but failed to clear the Senate last month.

Meanwhile, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveiled his own vision of student aid reform, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported. His plan, released on Thursday, calls for streamlining the student aid system, capping federal loans to parents and graduate students, and "disrupting the accreditation status quo." He proposes a database for tracking recipients of federal aid and argues for further consolidation of federal job training programs.

While some of the plan's proposals mirror ideas in the Republican road map for reauthorization – embracing online and competency-based learning, reducing regulation, and improving transparency with regard to student outcomes, it offers more specifics than does the Republican "priorities" list, particularly when it comes to accreditation. Ryan's plan would make it easier for new accreditors to gain federal approval and would allow accreditors to recognize specific courses, not just colleges or programs.

 

Related Links

Inside Higher Ed

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/07/24/house-approves-bills-competency-based-education-college-information-site

The Chronicle of Higher Education

http://chronicle.com/article/House-Approves-2-Bills-Toward/147891

Inside Higher Ed

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/07/25/us-house-votes-change-college-tax-breaks-boost-student-loan-counseling

The Chronicle of Higher Education

http://chronicle.com/article/Key-Republican-in-House/147907