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  • Washington Highlights

    Senate HELP Committee Continues Higher Education Act Reauthorization Hearings

    Matthew Shick, Sr. Director, Gov't Relations & Regulatory Affairs

    The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Jan. 30 held a hearing titled, “Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Accountability and Risk to Taxpayers.” The hearing was the fourth in a series of hearings [see Washington Highlights, Jan. 19] to gather feedback for potential action to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA).

    In his opening statement, referring to loan forgiveness tied to income-based repayment, HELP Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) stated, “What was designed as a temporary safety net has become the standard where students expect their debt to be forgiven after a certain amount of time. This may be good for the student, but is not so good for the taxpayer.”

    Chairman Alexander also called for more data transparency, financial aid counseling, and oversight of program default rates, specifically naming the Student Protection and Success Act (S.1939), which “proposes fixing the cohort default rate system to instead look at the percentage of students who fail to pay down at least $1 of their principal loan balance within three years.”

    In his testimony, Jason Delisle, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, noted, “There are no income limits, no means testing for the loans, and for graduate students, there's not even a cap on the amount they can borrow. They can borrow up to the full cost of attendance, effectively no questions asked,” presumably referring to GradPLUS loans.

    Jose Luis Cruz, PhD, president of the Herbert H. Lehman College of the City University of New York, urged, “As the committee moves to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, I hope you proceed in a thoughtful, purposeful, and bipartisan way that recognizes the fundamental American values that are at stake and that acknowledges that the resulting legislation will impact the America of tomorrow in ways as significant as the overhaul of the tax code, the re-conceptualization of our healthcare system, and the redesign of our immigration laws.”

    Additional witnesses included Anthony Carnevale, PhD, research professor and director of Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce; Ben Miller, senior director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, and Mamie Voight, the vice president of policy research for the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

    The Senate HELP committee plans to hold another hearing on HEA reauthorization on Feb. 6 titled, “Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Improving College Affordability.”

    The House Education and Workforce Committee passed its version of Higher Education Act reauthorization in December, shortly after a Dec. 11 AAMC comment letter raising concerns about the proposed elimination of GradPLUS and Public Service Loan Forgiveness [see Washington Highlights, Dec. 15, 2017].