A Prior-Prior Priority?

DC Shuttle …

Senate Hearing on HEA Reauthorization. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held its third hearing of this Congress on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA). The previous two hearings focused on consumer information and institutional risk sharing. The most recent hearing, entitled “Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Ensuring College Affordability,” looked for causes behind rising tuition costs and attempted to determine policy solutions to alleviate the growing burden of debt on students. The cause most cited by the hearing participants for rising college costs was recent decreases in state funding for higher education. Panelist Michael Mitchell of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in his testimony, reported that state funding for higher education has dropped sharply since the recession, with an average decrease in funding of 20% or $1,085 per student compared to the 2007-08 school year. The complexity of aid applications was another major concern during the hearing. Panelists explained that current aid applications can cause students to miss funding opportunities or discourage them from pursuing aid at all, especially those with limited resources and counseling. Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) recently introduced the bipartisan Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency (FAST) Act of 2015, which several panelists indicated could help students apply for aid, as it significantly shortens the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Other proposals changing student aid applications included switching to a prior-prior year formula and adopting uniform loan offer letters. Student loan debt for those students who didn’t complete their degrees was another area of concern for the committee. Several possible solutions to this problem were discussed, including increased counseling, early identification of students who may be in financial or academic trouble, re-establishment of a year-long Pell Grant, and programs to inform students of more affordable higher education options, including community colleges and technical schools. Alexander adjourned the hearing by announcing another one (on June 17) and by expressing his intention to have legislation ready for committee markup in early fall.

Lawmakers Send Letter Supporting Prior-Prior Year Data. A bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan asking for changes to the FAFSA that would allow students to use tax data from the second preceding year (“prior-prior year” or PPY) when filling out the forms. According to the letter, this will “speed up the application process and help reduce the burden of verification for documenting their financial situation and aid eligibility.” Lawmakers also said the shift would help provide students with financial aid offers early in their college-application process, allowing them to make more informed decisions. The Senate version of the letter was signed by 31 senators; the House version by 28 representatives. New England delegation signers included: Senators Angus King (I-ME), Ed Markey (D-MA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Representatives Bill Keating (D-MA) and Peter Welch (D-VT). According to Inside Higher Ed, the officials from the Education Department have expressed support for the change but remain concerned about the cost.

Sexual Assault Bill Tracked. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA) introduced the Hold Accountable and Lend Transparency (HALT) Act. According to Inside Higher Ed, the legislation would provide an extra $5 million per year in additional funding to the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, require the department to penalize higher education institutions (HEIs) in violation of Title IX, increase penalties for Clery Act violations, and require HEIs to conduct climate surveys every two years. In the Senate, Sen. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) outlined the progress of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA), which she introduced, during an interview with Politico. She said that she and fellow sponsor Claire McCaskill (D-MO) already have 32 co-sponsors for the legislation, which the Senate HELP Committee is expected to consider in the coming month.

U.S. Census Bureau Finds States Increase Education Spending. State education spending for FY 2013 was up 0.9% from 2012, according to a report released by the U.S. Census Bureau. The average state spending was $10,700 but varied widely across states, with a high of $19,818 in New York and a low of $6,555 in Utah.

Report Details Consumer Information in College Choice. A new report from Young Invincibles looks at how students search for college financial data and whether this varies between different groups of students. The report included several broad policy recommendations, including providing better outreach to inform students of accessible data and making data more consumer-friendly. The problem of consumer information in higher education was the subject of a recent Senate HELP hearing and is expected to be an important part of Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization.

Corinthian Debt Strike Grows. The number of students refusing to pay off the debt they took on to attend the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges is growing, Inside Higher Ed reports. The Debt Collective now has the support of nearly 200 former Corinthian students as well as more than 1,200 graduates of other colleges who have pledged to stop repayment of their loans if the Education Department doesn’t forgive the Corinthian student’s debt.

Op-Ed Explores Graduation Gap. A recent op-ed in the New York Times explores the different rates at which students graduate college based on their parent’s income and education. It found that the graduation gap between high-income and low-income students is even wider than the enrollment gap.

Conflicting Views on Standardized Testing. Two leaders of education groups have released conflicting op-eds about the importance of standardized testing. National Center on Education and the Economy President and CEO Marc Tucker wrote an op-ed in Education Week in late May, arguing that civil rights groups should reconsider their position on standardized testing. Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, disputed Tucker’s arguments in a blog post. The issue of standardized testing is again prevalent during the latest Early and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) rewrite.

We publish the DC Shuttle each week featuring higher ed news from Washington collected by the New England Council, of which NEBHE is a member. This edition is drawn from the Higher Education Update in the Council’s Weekly Washington Report of June 8, 2015. Founded in 1925, the New England Council is a nonpartisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth and a high quality of life in the New England region. The Council’s mission is to identify and support federal public policies and articulate the voice of its membership regionally and nationally on important issues facing New England. For more information, please visit: www.newenglandcouncil.com.


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