DC Shuttle: Congress Turns to Reauthorizing Higher Ed Act

Federal student aid. On Tuesday, the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training held a hearing on federal student aid programs. During the hearing, members and higher education experts discussed the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which is set to expire at the end of this year. Lawmakers explored the question of whether the federal government should maintain its traditional focus on improving access to higher education, or move toward a system that ties federal aid to student outcomes, job placement or graduation rates. Witnesses told the Subcommittee that the application process should be streamlined. Full Committee Chair John Kline (R-MN) said that had log been a goal but that lawmakers needed specific suggestions on how to improve the system. Witnesses suggested starting with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

College affordability. Also on Tuesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing on college affordability. Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA) said that trends indicating increased student debt must be met with early education for borrowers. Harkin and Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said that college affordability programs should take place on the state level and Sen. Alexander said those funds were being diverting as states see rising Medicaid costs. Expert witnesses told the panel that loan paperwork must be simplified to increase clarity.

Student loan rates. On Wednesday, Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies held a hearing on student loan rates. Student loan interest rates will double, to 6.8%, on July 1 if Congress does not act. Education Secretary Arne Duncan testified and joined lawmakers in saying that a compromise was achievable. In its budget request, the Obama administration has proposed returning to market-based interest rates for student loans for the first time since 2006, without placing a cap on how high interest rates could climb. That proposal has been met with support from Republicans, including Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Richard Burr (R-NC), but opposition from many Democrats who have called for a cap. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) introduced legislation (S. 707, H.R. 1433) that would freeze the current 3.4% interest rate for two years, to allow time to negotiate a permanent solution.

As a member of New England Council, we publish the DC Shuttle each week featuring higher ed news from Washington. This edition is drawn from the Council’s Weekly Washington Report Higher Education Update, of April 22, 2013.

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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