Higher Ed Act Reauthorization Percolating?

DC Shuttle …

Harkin proposes reauthorization of Higher Education Act. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced a draft bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. Harkin said that his 874-page proposal is aimed at holding institutions more accountable while reining in tuitions and easing loan repayment. Among several new provisions, the bill allows for the federal government to create a unit-record system that would track student performance and employment outcomes across higher education institutions. It would also overhaul the way colleges receive Perkins Loans and Work Study funding so that their allocations are more dependent on how many low- and middle-income students an institution serves. The proposed “Pell bonus” pilot program would encourage colleges to enroll low-income students by awarding extra funding to those that do so. The bill would also streamline the federal financial aid application process, requiring students to apply only once for four years considering the student has no significant changes to his or her financial status. Harkin’s looming retirement and only a few weeks left in the current lame-duck Congress mean that the legislation is unlikely to advance. It may, however, serve as a guide for members in the next Congress.

Miller, Harkin criticize new gainful employment default rate. Sen. Harkin and Rep. George Miller (D-CA), both top members of education committees, criticized the Education Department’s recent “gainful employment rules” that penalize schools where more than 30% of student borrowers default on their loans. They wrote a letter to Education Secretary Duncan, expressing their concern for the long-term effects on accountability the change might have, and that it will “ultimately allow poorly performing institutions to put more student loan borrowers at risk of taking on debt they cannot repay.”

FCC chief proposes $1.5 billion E-rate boost. Federal Communications Commission Chair Tom Wheeler proposed an increase in funding of the E-rate program, which provides high-speed internet connection for schools and libraries. His plan would boost federal funding by 1.5 billion, bringing the annual limit to a total of $3.9 billion.  The increase would be covered by a 16-cent raise in fees collected from consumers’ monthly phone bills. Read more in the New York Times.

New Common Core cutoff scores approved. A federally funded consortium that is designing assessments for the Common Core State Standards released new achievement levels for mathematics and English literacy under the Common Core standards. The data projects that more than half of students will fall short of marks that meet grade-level skills.  While some officials ensure that the new, higher standards will improve students’ performance over time, many parents and activists continue to criticize Common Core, stating that standardized tests do not benefit students.

Recession hinders graduation rates, report reveals. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released a report that studies the large group of students who entered college at the beginning of the Great Recession, and looks at the many different pathways they took towards degree completion. Results revealed that despite the fact more first time students enrolled in college in 2008, a smaller percentage made it to graduation.

President Obama signs bipartisan child care bill. President Obama signed into law a bipartisan bill that will revamp the Child Care and Development Block Grant program. The Senate voted 88-1 on the bill (S. 1086) that will improve the quality of child care by creating new health, safety and educational standards for a program which helps working, lower-class families pay for child care. Under the new law, federally subsidized childcare centers will undergo yearly inspections and their workers will receive criminal background checks. The bill was first enacted in 1990 and was last reauthorized 18 years ago.

Nonprofit to purchase Corinthian campuses. The ECMC Group, a nonprofit that runs student loan agencies, announced that it will purchase 56 campuses which enroll almost 40,000 students from the crumbling for-profit Corinthian College chain. The $24 million deal is contingent on approval from regulatory agencies and the Department of Education, which has already expressed support.

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 Nov. 24, 2014.

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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