Higher Education Act

The Higher Education Act (HEA) is a federal law that governs the administration of federal higher education programs. Its purpose is to strengthen the educational resources of our colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance for students in postsecondary and higher education.

First passed in 1965 to ensure that every individual has access to higher education, regardless of income or zip code, the HEA governs student-aid programs, federal aid to colleges, and oversight of teacher preparation programs. It is generally scheduled for reauthorization by Congress every five years to encourage growth and change.

The HEA has been reauthorized in 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1986, 1992, 1998, and 2008. Current authorization for the programs in the Higher Education Act expired at the end of 2013, but has been extended while Congress prepares changes and amendments.
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Latest Actions

Efforts to update the Higher Education Act stalled as the COVID-19 pandemic put Congressional discussions on hold. Prior to the outbreak, lawmakers were reportedly close to reaching a deal after years of failure. As the new 117th Congress convenes, there is hope that negotiations will resume.

HEA in the 116th Congress

  • Senate Action

    U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) in September 2019 introduced a piecemeal approach to update the Higher Education Act in the 116th Congress (2019-2020). The Student Aid Improvement Act, S. 2557, includes eight bipartisan bills to streamline the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA), simplify financial aid award letters, expand Pell Grant eligibility for students in prisons and allow Pell to be used for short-term programs, among other changes.

    The proposal follows months of stalled efforts to reach a bipartisan deal for a comprehensive HEA reauthorization and illustrates Sen. Alexander's urgency to pass major higher education legislation before he retires after next year. However, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member on the HELP committee, and Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), chairman of the House education committee, have repeatedly stated that they are not interested in passing legislation that falls short of a comprehensive HEA update.

    SENATE PRESS RELEASE   BILL TEXT

  • House Action

    Democrats on the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee in October 2019 unveiled a sweeping overhaul of the federal higher education law, aiming to cut the cost of college and increase access to college for low-income and minority students. The College Affordability Act would update the Higher Education Act for the first time in more than a decade at an estimated cost of $400 billion over 10 years.

    The legislation would:

    • Include the Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act, which AACRAO strongly supports and has advocated for over the past several years
    • Create a national tuition-free community college through a federal-state partnership model where the federal government contributes a per student amount at least 75 percent of the average resident tuition for public community colleges and states contribute 25 percent
    • Increase the maximum Pell Grant award by $500 and permanently index the award to inflation
    • Simplify FAFSA, including an automatic zero EFC for recipients of means-tested benefits
    • Create the Federal Direct Perkins Loan Program to provide an additional source of borrowing for undergraduates and graduates
    • Allow Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and certain other undocumented students access to federal student aid
    • Repeal the federal "student unit record" ban and require the Education Department to develop a system that uses student-level data to evaluate postsecondary outcomes
    • Change the 90/10 rule ratio (the percentage cap of Title IV aid an institution may receive) to 85/15 and expand it to include all educational programs
    • Require the Education Department to establish a Borrower Defense to Repayment process to discharge the federal loans of students who were defrauded by their colleges
    • Require the Education Department to establish a compliance standard that includes a debt-to-earnings threshold for training programs that are statutorily required to lead to gainful employment
    • Prohibit the Education Department from issuing or enforcing the proposed Title IX rules that the Trump administration published in November 2018, among other things.
     

    The College Affordability Act shares some key provisions with U.S. Senate Lamar Alexander's package of bipartisan bills. Both proposals would streamline FAFSA, simplify financial aid award letters, and expand Pell eligibility for incarcerated students and short-term programs—although the House bill excludes for-profit colleges.

    However, the House measure did not gain any traction in the Republican-controlled Senate or from the Trump administration.

    HOUSE PRESS RELEASE BILL TEXT OVERVIEW OF COLLEGE AFFORDABILITY ACT

     

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