Higher Education Act Shows Signs of Life

Higher Education Act

Shows Signs of Life

A Washington Watch update from John Mitchell

Just when most higher education advocates were giving it up for dead, the bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act,  titled the PROSPER  Act (Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform), exhibited a faint pulse this month.  The bill, which passed the House Education and Workforce Committee by a party-line 23-17 vote in December of 2017, has been lying dormant since then, waiting for action by the entire House.   Three weeks ago Representative Steve Scalise (R-La.) held a meeting with the House Republican Caucus to discuss the bill.  And last week it was revealed that Scalise, who is the Republican Whip, the person responsible for lining up votes, indicated that he was going to do a Whip count to measure the strength of the Bill among House Republicans.  The outcome of this headcount is not yet known.

The American Council for Education has provided a comprehensive explanation of all the changes in the bill, with the most notable being:

  • Scales back some of the regulations that prohibited some institutions from receiving federal funds,
  • Prohibits the Secretary of Education from issuing ratings of Higher Education Programs,
  • Expands free speech protections for students on campus,
  • Requires  institutions to establish drug and alcohol abuse programs and restrictions,
  • Prohibits institutions who receive Title IV funding from treating student religious organizations differently from other student organizations,
  • Provides protections for single sex organizations from being required to admit members from the other gender,
  • Requires the Secretary of Education to develop a “College Dashboard Website” providing public access to information about the colleges including costs, time it takes students to graduate, completion rates, employment information about graduates, etc.
  • Prohibits religious schools from being discriminated against in receiving federal funds based on their religious mission,
  • Requires changes to the way colleges handle sexual abuse allegations,
  • Expands access to apprenticeship programs,
  • Reauthorizes the Pell Grant program and consolidates a number of aid programs,
  • Gradually ends the Perkins Loan Program, including ending loan cancellation program for teachers, and
  • Simplifies the FAFSA application and also scales down federal student loan programs.

With all of this on the table the bill has collected a number of supporters and detractors.  So if  it appears that the bill is headed toward a vote by the entire house, lobbyist action will become hot and heavy.  If it should make it through the house things may well become even more difficult in the U.S. Senate, which is becoming known this year as, “the place where House bills go to die.”  However the Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tn.) and his Co-chair, Senator Patty Murray (D-Wa.) have been known to pull bipartisan rabbits out of their hats before , most notably the replacement of the No Child Left Behind Act with the Every Student Succeeds Act.  However the magic may be over for Alexander and Murray.  Recent reports are that they have not done any work on the Higher Education Act reauthorization – apparently they are having a spat about who failed to return a phone call to whom…

We will keep you posted if things change.

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