House and Senate Unveil Dueling Plans for Higher Ed Act Reauthorization

This week, Senate Democrats and House Republicans released draft outlines of their legislative priorities relating to the Higher Education Act reauthorization, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported.

U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) on Wednesday introduced his proposal for the comprehensive bill. The plan would focus on four main goals: increasing college affordability, helping struggling borrowers, strengthening accountability, and improving transparency. The draft bill calls tightening for-profit regulations, better federal accountability measures for colleges, and increased consumer protections for student loan borrowers. The unit-record system proposal was in an earlier draft of the measure but was stripped for technical reasons.

Meanwhile, House Republicans issued a white paper on Tuesday outlining their proposed plans for reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, and promised legislation to that end later this week, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported. Their plan calls for radically simplifying federal student aid and loan repayment programs, encouraging online and competency-based learning, and easing the regulatory burden on colleges.

Both proposals would streamline student loan repayment plans, revamp teacher preparation programs, and make Pell Grants available year-round. The lawmakers also agree on the need to improve students' financial literacy, slim down the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and simplify the information provided to prospective students.

Despite some overlaps, there are vast differences in the competing plans, setting the stage for partisan clashes over the federal government's proper role in keeping college prices down and the extent to which it should hold colleges accountable for the outcomes of their students.

Broadly speaking, the Senate Democrats favor top-down accountability for colleges, while the House Republicans prefer a limited federal role. Their plan would block President Obama's planned college rating system, while rolling back recent "program integrity" rules that expanded state oversight over colleges, defined the credit hour, and conditioned a college's receipt of student loan funds on its graduates' "gainful employment."

Additionally, Senate Democrats are offering a comprehensive bill, while House Republicans are taking a piecemeal approach. House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) said he would be introducing a handful of smaller bills, starting this week, that address various aspects of the overall plan released Tuesday, according to Inside Higher Ed. He said the strategy was aimed at getting broader, bipartisan support for the legislation.

"You can sit there with comprehensive bills and make no progress," Kline added.

A spokeswoman for Representative George Miller of California, the top Democrat on the House education committee, countered that the House Republican plan amounted to "small potatoes."

The priorities the Republicans laid out "clearly aren't a real effort to address real problems like skyrocketing tuition or massive student loan debt, and they won't make a significant difference in students' ability to get into, complete, or pay for their education," said Julia Krahe, the Miller spokeswoman.


Related Links

Senate Higher Education Affordability Act Draft Proposal Summary

Senate Higher Education Affordability Act Discussion Draft Language

Strengthening America’s Higher Education System: House Republican Priorities for Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Inside Higher Ed