Senate Democrats Float Higher Education Reauthorization Bill

Senate Democrats are expected to introduce legislation next week to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported. The bill would create a unit-record system, broaden refinancing of student loan debt, reverse cuts in Pell Grants, and crack down on for-profit colleges, according to several sources who have previewed a draft of the measure.

Lawmakers have been gearing up for the reauthorization since September, when the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee held the first of what would be 10 hearings on higher education issues.

In a floor speech last week, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), the committee's chairman, promised that the reauthorization bill would be "consistent with" the "bipartisan approach" that has characterized the hearings. According to a senior GOP aide, Republicans were not consulted during the bill's drafting, though, and the product is largely a compilation of Democratic policy priorities.

The legislation would make the accreditation process more transparent and create grant programs to encourage innovation and dual enrollment. The measure would also provide incentives for states to sustain their higher education spending, tying new grants to "maintenance of effort" requirements.

For borrowers, the bill would expand loan counseling, improve student loan servicing, and automatically enroll in income-based repayment programs any borrowers who were seriously delinquent on their loans. The bill would also create a new metric for judging colleges based on borrowers' risk of defaulting, and would link federal student aid to colleges' performance on the measure.


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The Chronicle of Higher Education