After a rapid-fire start earlier this year, the U.S. Senate education committee's work on the Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization has stalled, The New York Times reported.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said last week that his chamber would not produce promised higher education legislation this year, and blamed Democrats for the delay. The panel held a series of meetings in early 2018, but made little progress.
"We've given to the Democrats four months ago—after four years of hearings—our complete proposal about what to do and haven't gotten a response," Alexander said at an education conference last week. "They want to wait until next year to see if they're in better shape politically."
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the HELP committee, has said repeatedly that her party is not the problem. Murray, a spokeswoman said, "has made it clear that she wants to reauthorize the Higher Education Act as soon as possible to address the rising costs of college, increase access to underrepresented students, hold schools accountable for student success, and ensure every student is safe and free from discrimination on campus."
Meanwhile, House Republicans are forging ahead with efforts to advance their own HEA overhaul. The PROSPER Act, H.R. 4508 (115), was approved by the the House education committee last year, but the panel’s chairwoman, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), has not gotten a vote on the floor. Although the House GOP's efforts heated up again last month, with Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA.) hosting a meeting for Republicans to discuss the measure.
The legislation, if approved by the full House, is considered doomed in the Senate, where it would have to garner some Democratic support for floor passage, reported the Times. The House version is seen as too partisan, so many have been eagerly awaiting a Senate bill—a wait that now seems likely to stretch beyond the midterm elections.
With lawmakers at loggerheads, U.S. Education Secretary DeVos has made it clear that she is not waiting for Congress, the Times reported. The department recently announced a sweeping regulatory agenda that seeks revisions to key academic measurements in the existing law, as well as changes to eligibility requirements for nontraditional programs like "competency-based education" to obtain more federal financial aid.
The agency has also proposed to review what defines "regular and substantive interaction" between faculty members and students in programs where students are not physically present in classrooms, and to review the "credit hour," which is used to measure progress toward completing a college degree. It is also looking to review rules governing the role that accrediting agencies should play in securing federal financial aid for institutions, and that states should play in overseeing programs operating in their jurisdictions.
The New York Times