House GOP Takes First Step in Rewriting Higher Education Act

December 2017

On December 12, the House Education and Workforce Committee advanced legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act on a party-line vote. The
Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act, introduced by committee chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), reflects Republicans’ goals.

Most notably, the bill proposes to change the current federal higher education assistance structure to a system of one grant, one loan, and one work-study program, and makes many changes to student loans, grants, and institutional requirements.

During the markup hearing, House Democrats introduced over 40 amendments and repeatedly complained about the closed-door process that excluded even some of their Republican colleagues.

Proposed amendments from the Democrats included adding the DREAM Act to the bill, establishing a free community college program, allowing student loan refinancing, preserving Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and restoring federal requirements on for-profit colleges.

From a research perspective, the bill makes a few modest improvements but misses a prime opportunity to make comprehensive policy changes to provide research stakeholders with reliable information for making effective decisions.

AERA joined other members of the Postsecondary Data Collaborative on a letter to the committee leadership encouraging, among other things, overturning the current ban on a federal student-level data network, as proposed in the bipartisan College Transparency Act, which AERA supports. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) introduced an amendment in the markup hearing to overturn the student unit record ban, but it did not pass the committee.

“We appreciate the efforts to include a study of the National Student Clearinghouse to building a data system,” said AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine. “However, in order to further understanding of important information about higher education, AERA continues to support a repeal of the student unit record ban.”

The bill also prohibits a federal college ratings system, but this is understood to be less about the value of a rating system than about reducing the ability of the secretary of education to influence programs through agency regulations, as was widely criticized by Republicans during the Obama administration.

The Senate will not start its rewrite until next year. But the upper chamber’s process has already gotten off to a more bipartisan start, with the Senate Education Committee holding a friendly hearing on simplifying the application for federal student aid and talking about working together on the rewrite.

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