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.




Colleges Push Voter Registration

Oct 28, 2020, 21:40 PM
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Summary : Many institutions are expanding their voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts in the face of complex state laws and COVID-19 outbreak-related obstacles.
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Voter registration drives are normal features of a college campus during general election years, but efforts are not quite the same this year, reported The Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

Institutions must make a good faith effort to distribute voter registration forms and make such forms widely available to students in attendance during years when there are elections for federal office, governor, or other chief executives within the state, as required by the Higher Education Act. 

However, many colleges are expanding their get-out-the-vote campaigns to increase student voter turnout in the face of complex state laws and COVID-19 outbreak-related obstacles, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Students often need help overcoming voter ID requirements and guidance navigating an array of state voting rules. This year, the pandemic adds additional potential hurdles. Health experts have encouraged absentee voting, but mail-in ballots can be particularly daunting for first-time voters, according to the Chronicle.

In response, some institutions have devised new tactics and built on old ones to help ensure their students can exercise the right to vote. Many colleges and universities in Ohio, for example, provide a "zero balance" utility bill for students who live in the dorms. The bill serves no functional purpose, but the document can be used to satisfy Ohio's proof-of-residency requirements, the Chronicle reported.

In Wisconsin, state lawmakers passed a rule in 2011 stipulating that any voter ID must expire within two years, which excludes standard college IDs, as they are valid for four years. The University of Wisconsin at Madison, as well as many other institutions, responded by creating a second student ID for the sole purpose of providing a pathway for students to vote, reported the Chronicle. With the arrival of COVID-19, the university also created a version of the voter ID that students can download and print themselves without having to pick up the document on campus.

Related Links

The Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette


The Chronicle of Higher Education


Michelle Mott
Categories :
  • Advocacy
  • Higher Education Act
  • Industry News
  • State Relations
Tags :
  • covid-19
  • voter registration
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