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.

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. However, there is hope that negotiations will eventually resume in the 117th Congress.

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, included 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 followed months of stalled efforts to reach a bipartisan deal for a comprehensive HEA reauthorization.


  • 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 included provisions that 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 shared some key provisions with the Senate's package of bipartisan bills. Both proposals aimed to streamline FAFSA, simplify financial aid award letters, and expand Pell eligibility for incarcerated students and short-term programs—although the House bill excluded for-profit colleges.

    However, the House measure did not gain any traction in the 116th Congress's Republican-controlled Senate.




Biden's FY 2022 Budget Boosts Higher Ed Funding

Jun 3, 2021, 11:34 AM
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Summary : The full proposal would increase Education Dept. funding by 41 percent, make two years of community college free, and invest in minority-serving institutions.
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President Joe Biden on Friday released his budget request to Congress for the 2022 fiscal year, which begins on October 1, Politico reported

The full proposal includes $102.8 billion for the U.S. Education Department, which would represent a 41-percent ($29.8 billion) boost to current spending. It would also increase funding for numerous other Biden administration priorities. 

The request would provide an additional $3 billion in Pell Grants, increasing the maximum award by $400 to $6,895. President Biden said the investment is a first step in a more comprehensive proposal to double the grant. The discretionary request would also make Pell Grants available to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.

Additionally, the administration said it "looks forward to working with the Congress on changes to the Higher Education Act of 1965" to "ease the burden of student debt, including through improvements to the Income Driven Repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs."

The budget proposal folds in Biden's infrastructure plans and calls for an additional $600 million for programs that help enroll, retain, and graduate underserved students at community colleges and historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), tribal colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions (HSI), and other minority-serving institutions (MSI). It would also provide over $7 billion in mandatory funding in fiscal year 2022, reported Politico.

The proposal includes $12 billion over five years to improve community college facilities and build new facilities in education deserts from the American Jobs Plan.

From the American Families Plan, the budget request incorporates $123 billion over 10 years to make community college free, plus another $62 billion to close college completion gaps, according to the Education Department, and more than $80 billion over 10 years for MSIs. Additionally, it would include nearly $85 billion over 10 years to increase the maximum Pell Grant by $1,475 and make DACA recipients eligible for the award, Politico reported. In addition to the $400 boost in the budget, it would bring the maximum award to $8,370 for 2022-2023.

"We need to focus on not only recovering from the pandemic but also look towards our students' education after the pandemic to ensure there are improved resources to build our education system back better than before," said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona in a statement. "This budget ensures all students have access to high-quality, affordable postsecondary education, while also improving career pathways for students of all ages and levels."

The full request comes as Republican lawmakers are still negotiating an infrastructure package with the White House, Politico reported. GOP lawmakers' $928 billion counter proposal unveiled Thursday left schools out of the toplines.

President Biden's request requires congressional approval and could provide a budget blueprint for Democrats who narrowly control the House and Senate. Congressional Republicans quickly criticized the proposal, calling it an overreaching expansion of the federal government.

U.S. Education Department Press Release


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Michelle Mott
Categories :
  • Advocacy
  • Community Colleges
  • Enrollment Management
  • Financial Aid and FAFSA
  • Higher Education Act
  • Immigration
  • Pathways
  • Retention
Tags :
  • college completion
  • covid-19
  • Daca
  • Debt
  • education department
  • Federal relations
  • free college
  • hbcu
  • HSI
  • IBR
  • MSI
  • pell grant
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness program
  • racial/ethnic gaps
  • tribal colleges
  • tuition free
  • undocumented
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