Congressional Hearings Tackle HEA Reauthorization Issues

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held its latest hearing Tuesday on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, reported Inside Higher Ed. The hearing focused on accountability in higher education. Lawmakers and panelists discussed the need for better data for students to help make decisions on the front end, as well as the need for "guardrails" to prevent federal dollars from flowing to poorly performing institutions and channel them toward changes resulting in greater accountability and success.

Tuesday's hearing was the fourth on postsecondary issues since November and the third of the new year. Last Thursday, the committee examined how the federal government could open up innovation by colleges and universities, with discussions focusing on the quality protections that should come with opening up federal aid to non-traditional providers. Another hearing, to examine the costs associated with attending college, is set for February 6.

The sudden flurry of activity signals HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander's (R-TN) intention to move ahead quickly with an overhaul of the Higher Education Act. At Tuesday's hearing, Sen. Alexander said that work drafting reauthorization legislation would begin "within the next few weeks." The chairman has previously said that he plans to have the committee mark up a bill by early spring, Roll Call reported.

Many following the HEA reauthorization process are skeptical that the Senate would move on a bill that quickly, according to Inside Higher Ed. A Democratic committee aide said the Democrats want to get an HEA reauthorization done as quickly as possible. However, the aide added, "given that the complex policy negotiations haven't even begun yet and it took almost a year to negotiate the last bipartisan education bill, it's hard to imagine that a comprehensive bipartisan reauthorization of the Higher Education Act can be completed thoughtfully and well in 'the next few weeks.'"

Republicans on the House education committee approved a bill, the so-called PROSPER Act, H.R. 4508 (115), in December. The full House is set to consider the legislation in the next month. However, the Senate—which has so far taken a bipartisan approach to the higher education rewrite—is widely expected to produce a bill that will be more likely to become law.

Meanwhile, the House education committee on Tuesday held a separate hearing leading up to the chamber's consideration of its HEA reauthorization bill on "Protecting Privacy, Promoting Policy: Evidence-Based Policymaking and the Future of Education." Lawmakers and panelists discussed the importance of data and the ability to use that data for research that informs both the effectiveness of current policy and the shaping of future policy. The hearing also touched on concerns regarding the level of confidence that such data can be fully protected and not used for potentially harmful and unintended purposes.


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Inside Higher Ed

Roll Call

Inside Higher Ed