House Education and Workforce Committee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) Dec. 1 released a higher education reform bill called the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity Through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act (H.R. 4508). The PROSPER Act is intended to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA), which authorizes programs at the Department of Education, including federal student loans.
The 542-page legislation makes significant changes to federal financial aid and would reshape how students benefit from a federal system of support. Among the bill’s provisions is a proposal to phase out the federal direct loan program and to create a new “Federal ONE Loan Program.” The bill also would set new higher unsubsidized loan limits and eliminate loan origination fees, but would also eliminate the GradPLUS program that allows medical students to borrow up to the full cost of attendance at a higher interest rate.
In an attempt to simplify federal financial aid, the bill also would pare the number of repayment plans to two options: a 10-year standard repayment plan and an income-driven repayment plan capped at the 10-year standard repayment amounts. The bill’s phase-out of direct loans by 2024 ultimately would prevent new borrowers from becoming eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) after that time; only direct loans are eligible for PSLF.
In a press release Chairman Foxx wrote, “With six million unfilled jobs and over a trillion dollars in student debt, simply reauthorizing the Higher Education Act will help no one. A hard truth that students, families, and institutions must face is that the promise of a postsecondary education is broken. We need a higher education system that is designed to meet the needs of today’s students and has the flexibility to innovate for tomorrow’s workforce opportunities. The PROSPER Act is higher education’s long overdue reform.”
In response, Senate Health, Educations, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) released a statement saying, “it’s extremely disappointing that House Republicans are taking another partisan step in the wrong direction and introducing a plan that would harm students by cutting billions in financial aid.”
While the introduction of this legislation signifies a step forward for reauthorization, both the House and Senate must agree on an HEA proposal before the reauthorization becomes law. The House committee has not yet publicly announced a date to mark up the PROSPER Act. In a recent hearing, Senate HELP Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) indicated that the Senate plans to take action on HEA reauthorization early in 2018.