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  • Washington Highlights

    Senate Panel Holds Hearing on Financial Aid Simplification and the Higher Education Act

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

    The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Jan. 18 held a hearing, titled “Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency.”

    Senate HELP Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) opened the hearing, stating, “There is a bipartisan consensus that students looking for federal financial aid to go to college need a much simpler system so that it is not a barrier to college for the very students the aid is intended to help.” Chairman Alexander added that areas in which he sees agreement include “[s]impler, more effective regulations to make it easier for students to pay for college and to pay back their loans; reducing red tape so administrators can spend more time and money on students; making sure a degree is worth the time and money students spend to earn it; and helping colleges keep students safe on campus.”

    Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) pointed out that “navigating the financial aid process and the student loan repayment system are just some of the many challenges students are facing.” Reiterating her interest in working in a bipartisan manner to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, she said “we must pass a comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act that address all of these challenges simultaneously. Anything less is a disservice to our students.”

    Witnesses included Matthew Chingos, PhD, director of the Education Policy Program at the Urban Institute; Joanna Darcus, a Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation Racial Justice Fellow with the National Consumer Law Center; Susan Dynarski, PhD, professor of public policy and at University of Michigan; Laura Keane, chief policy officer for UAspire; and Lowery-Hart, PhD, president of Amarillo College.

    Among the issues discussed during the hearing, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) asked witnesses about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. Sen. Kaine noted that the program was created by the Bush Administration and allows public servants to have their loans forgiven. Ms. Darcus said that the program is “extremely vital” to public interest lawyers and many, like herself, rely on PSLF. Ms. Darcus added that she sees low income students who want to give back to their communities and that PSLF is “the very thing we want to have in our country to lift America up.” Conversely, Dr. Chingos suggested the program should be eliminated, saying it provides “arbitrary benefits and benefits that are unfair.”

    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 PSLF [see Washington Highlights, Dec. 15, 2017].