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.




Senators Urge DeVos to Hold Owners of For-Profits Financially Liable

Oct 28, 2020, 21:32 PM
legacy id :
Summary : Lawmakers call on the Education Dept. to hold the owners and executives of for-profit colleges that defrauded students personally and financially accountable.
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U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Chris Murphy (D-CT), all members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, sent a letter on Tuesday to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urging the department to hold the owners of for-profit colleges personally and financially liable for the cost to the federal government if the colleges are found to have defrauded their students and then closed. The letter is also signed by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). 

The move comes as some, including former members of the Obama administration, are preparing to push the Education Department under a Biden administration to aggressively use its powers to crack down on for-profits, should the Democratic presidential candidate win next week's election, reported Inside Higher Ed.

"It is simply inexcusable for the Department to continue to allow corporate executives to profit from school closures when Congress has given it the explicit duty and additional authority to seek compensation from those very individuals. The Department, however, has failed to discharge its duties and exercise its authorities provided under law, leaving students and taxpayers on the hook for more than a billion dollars in losses in the last few years alone," the lawmakers wrote. 

The Higher Education Act, "gives the Secretary of Education both the obligation to pursue any student loan discharge resulting from school closure 'against the institution and its affiliates and principals' and the additional authority to recover these losses from individuals who exercised 'substantial control' over these institutions, including individuals who have an ownership stake and those who served as members of the board of directors, the CEO, or in other positions with substantial control," the senators wrote.

"Historically, the Department has failed to hold owners and executives of for-profit colleges that defrauded students financially accountable, despite having the clear legal authority to do so," the letter said.

The lawmakers asked the Department to respond to their letter no later than November 9, 2020.

Related Links

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren's Press Release


Inside Higher Ed


Michelle Mott
Categories :
  • Advocacy
  • Higher Education Act
Tags :
  • accountability
  • college closures
  • education department
  • Federal relations
  • for-profit colleges
  • fraud
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