Twenty-Two Thoughts on House Democrats’ Higher Education Act Reauthorization Bill

House Democrats released the framework for the College Affordability Act today, which is their effort for a comprehensive reauthorization of the long-overdue Higher Education Act. This follows the release of Senator Lamar Alexander’s (R-TN) more targeted version last month. As I like to do when time allows, I live-tweeted my way through the 16-page summary document. Below are my 22 thoughts on certain parts of the bill (annotating some of my initial tweets with references) and what the bill means going forward.

(1) Gainful employment would go back in effect for the same programs covered in the Obama-era effort. (Did that policy induce programs to close? Stay tuned for a new paper on that…I’m getting back to work on it right after putting up this blog post!)

(2) In addition to lifting the student unit record ban, the bill would require data to be disaggregated based on the American Community Survey definitions of race (hopefully with a crosswalk for a couple of years).

(3) Federal Student Aid’s office would have updated performance goals, but there is no mention of a much-needed replacement of the National Student Loan Data System (decidedly unsexy and not cheap, though).

(4) Regarding the federal-state partnership, states would have access to funds to “support the adoption and expansion of evidence-based reforms and practices.” I would love to see a definition of “evidence”—is it What Works Clearinghouse standards or something less?

(5) The antiquated SEOG allocation formula would be phased out and replaced with a new formula based on unmet need and percent low-income. Without new money, this may work as well as the 1980 effort (which flopped). Here is my research on the topic.

(6) Same story for federal work-study. Grad students would still be allowed to participate, which doesn’t seem like the best use of money to me.

(7) Students would start repaying loans at 250% of the federal poverty line, up from 150%. Automatically recertifying income makes a lot of sense.

(8) There are relatively small changes to Public Service Loan Forgiveness, mainly regarding old FFEL loans and consolidation (they would benefit quite a few people). But people still have to wait ten years and hope for the best.

(9) I’m in a Halloween mood after seeing the awesome Pumpkin Blaze festival in the Hudson Valley last night. So, on that note, Zombie Perkins returns!

The Statue of Liberty, made entirely out of pumpkins. Let HEA reauthorization ring???

(10) ED would take a key role in cost of attendance calculations, with a requirement that they create at least one method for colleges to use. Here is my research on the topic, along with a recent blog post showing colleges with very low and very high living allowances.

(11) And if that doesn’t annoy colleges, a requirement about developing particular substance abuse safety programs will. Campus safety and civil rights requirements may also irk some colleges, but will be GOP nonstarters.

(12) The bill places a larger role on accreditors and state authorizers for accountability while not really providing any support. Expect colleges to sue accreditors/states…and involve their members of Congress.

(13) Improving the cohort default rate metric is long-overdue, and a tiered approach could be promising. (More details needed.)

(14) There would be a new on-time loan repayment metric, defined as the share of borrowers who made 33 of 36 payments on time. $0 payments and educational deferments count as payments, and ED would set the threshold with waivers possible.

(15) This is an interesting metric, and I would love to see it alongside the Scorecard repayment rate broken down by IDR and non-IDR students. But if the bill improves IDR, expect the on-time rate to (hopefully!) be high.

(16) It would be great to see new IPEDS data on marketing, recruitment, advertising, and lobbying expenses. Definitions matter a lot here, and the Secretary gets to create them. These are the types of metrics that the field showed interest in when the IPEDS folks asked Tammy Kolbe and me to do a landscape analysis of higher ed finance metrics.

(17) Most of higher ed wants financial responsibility scores to be updated (see my research on this), and this would set up a negotiated rulemaking panel to work on it.

(18) There is also language about “rebalancing” who participates in neg reg. The legislative text will be fun to parse.

(19) Teach for America will be reauthorized, but it’s in a list of programs with potential changes. Democrats will watch that closely.

(20) And pour one out for the programs that were authorized in the last Higher Education Act back in 2008, but never funded. This bill wants to get rid of some of them.

(21) So what’s next? Expect this to get a committee vote fairly quickly, but other events might swamp it (pun intended) in the House. I doubt the Senate will take it up as Alexander has his preferred bill.

(22) Then why do this? It’s a good messaging tool that can keep higher ed in the spotlight. Both parties are positioning for 2021, and this bill (which is moderate by Dem primary standards) is a good starting place for Democrats.

Thanks for reading!

Author: Robert

I am an associate professor of higher education at Seton Hall University who studies higher education finance, accountability policies and practices, and student financial aid. All opinions expressed here are my own.

2 thoughts on “Twenty-Two Thoughts on House Democrats’ Higher Education Act Reauthorization Bill”

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