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.




House Republicans Huddle on HEA Reauthorization

May 24, 2018, 11:52 AM
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Summary : Following Wednesday's meeting, AACRAO sent a letter to all 435 members of the House of Representatives expressing our deep concern with the PROSPER Act in its current form.
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House Republicans met Wednesday to discuss a sweeping bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA). House Majority Whip Steve Scalise called the meeting, the first sign in months that the bill may be gaining momentum in the Republican caucus, Inside Higher Ed reported.

GOP lawmakers released the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act, H.R. 4508, late last year. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, has been pushing to get the bill on the House floor since it cleared the committee in December on a party-line vote. Since then, the legislation encountered mostly opposition from higher education groups, student and veterans organizations, and some Republican members concerned about the elimination of Public Service Loan Forgiveness, reported Inside Higher Ed.

Following Wednesday's meeting, AACRAO sent a letter to all 435 members of the House of Representatives expressing our deep concern with the PROSPER Act in its current form. While we acknowledge that the proposed legislation includes some practical proposals, the association strongly opposes numerous other provisions that would make higher education more expensive for millions of students and families, including the elimination of the in-school interest subsidy for undergraduate students, the termination of the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, and the elimination of loan forgiveness and other benefits currently available in the student loan programs. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the PROSPER Act would reduce federal aid to students by $14.6 billion over 10 years. Additionally, the legislation would make significant changes in federal higher education policy without a clear understanding of the likely consequences, including weakening federal oversight of fraud and abuse in the federal aid system and revising the return of Title IV funds.

The letter includes detailed comments outlining our main concerns, as well as areas of support, and offers recommendations to strengthen the reauthorization process by revising the legislation to reduce cost and increase accountability.

Also, ten State and Regional members have shared their concerns with Members of Congress regarding House PROSPER Act. Overall, the State and Regional members listed below reached out to  276 Members of Congress from 27 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. Territories were contacted. These Districts have approximately 1121 college and universities.

  • Pacific Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers (PACRAO)

  • Middle States Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers (MSACRAO)

  • Carolinas Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers (CACRAO)

  • Rocky Mountain Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers (RMACRAO)

  • Texas Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers (TACRAO)

  • Indiana Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers (IACRAO)

  • Illinois Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers (IACRAO)

  • Kentucky Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers (KACRAO)

  • Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers (MACRAO)

  • Kansas Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers (KACRAO)

AACRAO will continue to closely monitor any developments and engage with lawmakers in both parties and chambers as the HEA reauthorization moves forward.

Related Links

Inside Higher Ed


AACRAO letter to House Representatives regarding the PROSPER Act
Michelle Mott
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  • AACRAO Transcript
  • Advocacy
  • Financial Aid and FAFSA
  • Higher Education Act
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  • Federal relations
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