Last winter, HEAG provided a summary of the two partisan bills the House Committee on Education and Labor introduced – the Republicans’ Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform Act (PROSPER) and the Democrats’ Aim Higher Act. At the time we felt the mid-term elections would likely result in new legislation being introduced — and we were right. On October 15, the Democratic members of the Committee introduced the College Affordability Act (CAA).
The bills introduced by the Democrats are, as expected, pretty similar. For each the focus is on making higher education more accessible by simplifying the application process; giving colleges more responsibility for educational and financial outcomes of students; expanding the Pell Grant program and making it easier to repay student loans, particularly for those who enter public service. The glaring difference is that CAA does not contain any language regarding free public higher education.
The Republicans have not introduced any new legislation, so we’ll compare the CAA to PROSPER to understand where there is bipartisan support. Both parties want to simplify the application process, expand the Pell Grant program (although in somewhat different ways), and reduce the number of student loan repayment options. The Democrats have included two options – one standard and one income-based — while the Republicans included only one income-based program. However, the parties are far apart on issues such as the Obama-era regulations on for-profit institutions. The Democrats look to maintain these regulations while the Republicans would eliminate them. Similarly, the Democrats look to expand loan forgiveness programs while the Republicans seek to end the program that exists today.
The Senate is also working on reauthorization legislation. As we reported before, reauthorizing the Higher Education Act has been Senator Lamar Alexander’s goal since he announced he would not seek re-election in 2020. The Student Aid Improvement Act introduced in late September is a bipartisan effort, drafted by 20 Democrats and 15 Republicans. The intent was to introduce legislation that would introduce a small number of changes that already have bi-partisan support in order to speed up the process. Nearly all of the items it contains are also in the CAA proposed by House Democrats, which is a good sign.
Unfortunately, there are a number of matters distracting both house and senate members from considering higher education legislation right now and, of course, we’re about to enter the holiday season, so we don’t expect any further activity until 2020.