Alexander’s HEA Proposals Panned by Democrats, Praised by Ivanka

By The New England Council

DC Shuttle …

Alexander’s HEA Proposal Garners Mixed Reviews. U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) blocked a bill passed by the House that would extend funding for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) two years beyond its expiration date on Sept. 30. Instead of allowing a clean passage of the bill through the Senate, the chairman, who is retiring next year, brought forward a proposal that attached eight bipartisan higher education bills. Critics have accused Alexander of holding funding to HBCU’s hostage as he pushes to advance just certain pieces of the Higher Education Act. Ranking member on the HELP Committee Patty Murray (D-WA) responded, “We need to do this reauthorization in a comprehensive way that really helps our students with the many challenges they face.” Alexander’s proposal does not include college affordability nor accountability legislation, which Democrats identify as essential pieces to reforming the higher education system. White House Advisor Ivanka Trump, who has worked with Alexander on higher education issues, praised his proposal and endorsed its passage.
Education Department Releases New Student Loan Default Data. The U.S. Department of Education released updated data on student loan defaults. The Cohort Default Rate (CDR) is the percentage of borrowers from a school who default on their loans after three years. The Education Department uses the yearly rates to institute federal aid sanctions on schools that meet or exceed 30%. The new data showed that the national CDR during FY 2016 came down from 10.8% to 10.1%. “We are glad to see that the cohort default rate continues to decline,” said Angela Morabito, a spokeswoman for the department. “The Department is committed to ensuring borrowers are equipped with the information, tools and resources they need to make informed decisions.” Public colleges and universities, which educate the majority of students, recorded the most significant change, dropping from 10.3% to 9.6%. Private nonprofit colleges fell from 7.1% to 6.6%. And for-profit colleges came slightly down from 15.6% to 15.2%. Thirteen for-profit institutions, one public college and one private college, most of which are cosmetology schools, exceeded the CDR percentage threshold and must appeal to the department if they want students to receive federal grants and loans. The CDR report, however, continues to come under scrutiny from critics who believe schools can and often do manipulate the system by promoting forbearance or deferment on loans to their students. “These numbers are at best an artificial picture,” said Ben Miller, senior director at the Center for American Progress. “There are about 1 million people defaulting every year, though half as many show up in the cohort default rate.” Read more in The Washington Post.

Congresswomen Introduces Protecting Student Aid Act. Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Donna Shalala (D-FL) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) introduced the Protecting Student Aid Act of 2019. The legislation is designed to reinvigorate the Student Aid Enforcement Unit within the Department of Education in order to allow the department to better react to instances of fraud and abuse within federal student aid programs. “This industry has preyed on vulnerable communities leaving students with crushing levels of student debt and low-quality degrees. The PSA Act will strengthen the Federal Student Aid unit to ensure that students are protected, and institutions found cheating students and taxpayers are held accountable,” said Pressley.

Grassley Writes Op-ed Addressing Free Speech in College Classrooms. Sen. Chuck Grassely (R-IA) released an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal addressing his concerns about academic freedom and free speech in university settings. Grassley cites several incidents at Harvard University, Duke University, Sarah Lawrence College and Villanova University that he claims were all acts of academic censorship. In each incident, professors were dismissed or faced repercussions for voicing differing opinions both in and outside their workplace. Grassley writes, “Campuses were once places of vigorous debate. Now many appear dominated by groups of angry students with closed minds and the administrators who kowtow to them.” He says he plans to address such issues in his oversight work as the chair of the Finance Committee.

House, Senate Work on Appropriations Despite Impeachment Inquiry. Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby released a statement to confirm that the top staff on the Senate Committee are currently talking and negotiating with the House Committee to pass FY 2020 spending bills. Such communication shows that the impeachment inquiry, announced earlier this week, has not brought all budget discussions to a halt. According to Congressional Quarterly, there is a push from top Senate appropriators to get bills that have received bipartisan support on the floor. However, the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill, the second largest bill after defense, is expected to need heavy discussion before achieving bipartisan support and heading to the floor. The Senate passed a continuing resolution to keep the government running through Nov. 21, which would keep the Education Department at FY 2019 levels until agreement is reached.

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 Sept. 30, 2019. For more information, please visit:


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>