By Jenny Smulson, Director of Government Relations, AJCU
On Tuesday, November 12, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in cases related to the Trump Administration’s repeal of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). AJCU, in partnership with the Ignatian Solidarity Network and the Office of Justice and Ecology within the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, will march to the Supreme Court to demonstrate support for the DACA program. Details about tomorrow morning’s event can be found at ignatiansolidarity.net/prayers-of-hope. Please share this information with communities on your campus that might find it of interest and importance.
Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act
The work of Congress is like a slow train coming. The legislative process wasn’t designed to go quickly, but in recent years, even our nation’s founders themselves might be shocked by the pace of authorizers in reviewing, updating and renewing some of our nation’s foundational laws.
For example, it has taken a decade (and counting) to successfully reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA). While the programs contained within the Act mostly function without a current authorization, a lot can change in ten years, putting additional pressure on legislators to update the underlying statute and make sure it is current to meet the changing needs of students and institutions.
In a sign of progress, on October 15, the U.S. House of Representatives advanced the reauthorization with H.R. 4674, the College Affordability Act of 2019, which was introduced by Representative Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-VA), Chair of the House Education and Labor Committee. It is cosponsored by 85 Representatives (all Democrats). Over 1,000 pages in length, the legislation increases support for federal student financial aid programs; improves loan terms and conditions for borrowers; makes significant changes to accreditation; and invests in the “America’s College Promise” program designed to make public community colleges tuition-free.
After two full days of deliberation, the House Education and Labor Committee passed H.R. 4674 by a vote of 28-22, with all Democrats voting in support and all Republicans voting in opposition. This was not an easy lift, nor will advancing it further.
The Committee began its consideration of the College Affordability Act with the introduction of an amendment in the nature of a substitute. The Substitute included changes to the underlying bill that further amended the proposed accreditation provisions, in an effort to address some of the concerns articulated by the higher education community. The Substitute also included an even larger increase in the Pell Grant maximum, to $6,820, and the reinstatement of eligibility for subsidized loans to graduate students – both significant student benefits. Throughout the mark-up, members of the Committee considered over 40 amendments, most of which were met with party-line votes, with a few exceptions. A full list of the amendments considered and vote counts, as well as the Substitute, can be found here.
AJCU weighed in with the Committee prior to mark-up, expressing support for the increased investments in student aid programs, including the Pell Grant maximum, Federal Work Study, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, and the revival of the Perkins Loan program. AJCU also applauded changes to the Federal Direct Loan program that will make college more affordable for students, by eliminating origination fees, simplifying loan repayment, and strengthening and improving the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. In addition, we expressed appreciation for policies that will expand educational access to marginalized populations, like extending eligibility to incarcerated individuals to obtain Pell grants, and extending Title IV aid to “Dreamer students.”
Still, not everything in the bill would expand access to students interested in attending Jesuit colleges and universities. AJCU raised objections with the “America’s College Promise” proposal that supports one sector of higher education without consideration of student need, specifically the financial needs of low-income students. AJCU extended a request to work with the Committee to make sure that the “America’s College Promise” program strengthens federal-state partnerships and provides resources to ALL students with financial need within the state. Many states continue to recognize and respect the value in providing direct student support, and AJCU urged the Committee to consider models that leverage federal resources, encourage partnerships with states, and support students directly at eligible nonprofit institutions.
AJCU also co-signed a letter crafted by the American Council on Education (ACE) that provides a more in-depth review of changes to current law included in the College Affordability Act. This letter reiterated the community’s strong support for investing in student aid, while raising concerns about proposed policies, such as the federalization of accreditation and the significant increase in federal requirements of institutions of higher education, which would counter the goals of access and affordability articulated by the Committee. Both the AJCU and community letters are posted on the Policy Corner page of the AJCU website.
Finally, ACE has prepared a comprehensive summary of the bill as adopted (including amendments). ACE will continue to update this document with closer readings of the legislation. This is an invaluable resource to individuals and to our organization. Check it out!
What’s next? Are we on the Acela or the local train? The Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee has introduced a more limited HEA reauthorization proposal. There is little movement on that legislation. The House Education and Labor Committee maintains they will see their bill on the floor this year. They are currently working on a legislative report and waiting on a score or cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office. To advance to the full U.S. House of Representatives, the bill will have to be “priced out” and any costs will need to be offset. General estimates put the price tag on H.R. 4674 at over $400 billion over the next ten years.
So, while I excitedly share news about a flurry of activity around the HEA reauthorization, there are still many more stops to go before the bill reaches its arrival! And one upside of this slow process is that there are still opportunities to make changes to this bill. The College Affordability Act remains a work in progress. If there are specific provisions of interest to your campus that you want to discuss or need more information on, please reach out to me any time. I always welcome a conversation with you and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.