HEA Rewrite Moving Forward

DC Shuttle …

HEA Reauthorization. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA). The hearing was titled “HEA Reauthorization: The Role of Consumer Information in College Choice.” During the hearing, committee members asked the witnesses how, or if, the federal government can improve data systems to better inform students about the cost of college, its payoffs and other options they might have. The panelists had many recommendations for improvements, including providing more program data, perfecting earning data, breaking down data to better recognize nontraditional and minority students, dedicating more resources to college counselors, and simplifying financial aid—both through shortening the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a favorite cause of Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and by switching to a prior-prior year system. Many lawmakers questioned whether the federal government should be the entity disseminating data, or whether that task is best left to states or private programs. Lawmakers mostly agreed that the data presented on federal sites can be overwhelming to the point of being unhelpful. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) questioned whether a more simplified interface could be created to help applicants understand how students similar to them fare at different colleges. Another area of great interest to lawmakers was how certificate programs and two-year colleges are introduced to students and whether more has to be done to advertise the cost benefits and earning potential of such institutions. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) was one of several senators asking the Education Department to share data about student-aid programs, calling for an amendment she had previously proposed to force more sharing of that information to be considered as part of the HEA rewrite. Alexander agreed that such an amendment would be considered and announced that the committee will likely consider an HEA rewrite in the fall.

Student Aid Offers. During the Senate HELP Committee hearing, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) called for the creation of a uniform student aid letter to be distributed by all colleges and universities. Franken introduced a bill in 2013 that would have mandated the creation of such a letter, but it stalled in committee. A recent NPR article revisited the issue.

Major Earnings. Former National Center for Education Statistics head Mark Schneider was one of the most vocal proponents at a hearing on increasing the use of program-by-program data to inform potential college students of possible economic outcomes. He said in testimony that “what a student studies often is more important than where they study it.” The topic was also the focus of a recent Georgetown University report, which explores the economic value of majors. A video from the Wall Street Journal analyzes key findings of the report.

Admissions Report. The National Association for College Admission Counseling released its annual “State of College Admission” report. As Inside Higher Ed notes, the report found that the average acceptance rate for four-year colleges is 64.7%, up one point from last year. The report also found that average yield rates (the percent of accepted students who enroll) have fallen, continuing a trend in recent years. The average yield rate for the fall 2013 cycle was 35.9%, in 2010 it was 39.5%, and in 2002, it was 48.7%, according to an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Changes to Loan Repayment Program. A federal rulemaking panel agreed on changes to the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) income-based repayment plan. Among the changes, the committee agreed to higher repayment rates for high-income borrowers, later forgiveness dates for graduate-school borrowers, and requirements for married borrowers to pay based upon their joint income. It also agreed to make the plan available to all borrowers, a change from the original PAYE plan, Inside Higher Ed reports. Draft rules for new plan, called Revised PAYE (REPAYE), are expected in July. The Chronicle of Higher Education further explores the new plan.

Rising Tuition. A decrease in state funding is one factor fueling rising tuition costs, according to a new report from the think tank Demos. In Inside Higher Ed, the author of the report called the decrease in state funding the factor of the greatest magnitude in rising tuition costs. The report found that from 2001 to 2011, state funding per student fell $3,081 at research universities and $2,067 at non-research universities.

Education Credits. A federal watchdog found the Internal Revenue Service wrongly distributed $5.6 billion in education incentives in 2012, according to a report in The Hill. Approximately 3.6 million taxpayers received these benefits incorrectly, according to the watchdog, the Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration.

Tuition Payments Being Called Back in Bankruptcy. A growing number of bankruptcy courts are now looking to tuition payments as a possible form of debt repayment, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. Creditors have been able to get back tuition payments paid by parents on behalf of their children with the argument that the funds should be used to pay off the parent’s debt. According to the article, at least 25 colleges have been contacted with such requests and more than a dozen have complied. American families now own more student loan debt than auto loan debt or credit card debt. Student loan debt continued to grow during and after the 2008 financial crisis, topping $1.3 trillion at the end of 2014. Not included in this figure are alternative ways of financing a college education, including mortgages and credit cards, which a recent article from the Chronicle of Higher Education says could be resulting in much higher student loan debt than consumers realize.

Road to Higher Education. The White House recently launched an initiative encouraging people to share their experiences on the road to higher education. The administration is including a particular emphasis on the role community colleges have played in people’s education. The White House released a blog post detailing the journey of three White House staffers who graduated from community colleges. President Obama also delivered the commencement address at Lake Area Technical Institute, a community college in Watertown, SD, marking Obama’s first visit to the state as president and the 5oth to receive such a visit.

My Brother’s Keeper. Obama announced changes to his My Brother’s Keeper initiative. During an event at Lehman College, the president announced the creation of a private-sector alliance to support the causes of the initiative. According to Education Week, the decision to make a nonprofit organization will allow the president to continue the effort after he leaves office.

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 May 11, 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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