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Congress Hones In on Higher Education Legislation

June 27, 2014— Several Members of Congress have introduced legislation in anticipation of Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization.

Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) June 25 released a discussion draft of a bill to reauthorize HEA. According to a summary posted early that day, the Higher Education Affordability Act (HEAA) would:

  • create a single income-based repayment option,
  • eliminate origination fees on all Direct Loans,
  • allow private student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy,
  • strengthen student loan servicing standards through new consumer protections,
  • establish more meaningful disclosure and accountability metrics, including loan repayment rates, and
  • standardize financial aid award letters; and reform entrance and exit counseling.

On the other side of the Capitol, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chair John Kline (R-Minn.) and Higher Education and Workforce Training Subcommittee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) June 24 released a white paper outlining their higher education priorities and an incremental approach to reauthorization.  As a start, House Republicans June 26 introduced three separate measures: the Empowering Students through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act, the Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act, and the Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act. Highlights from the bills include:

  • annual consent forms and interactive, personalized counseling for students with federal loans;
  • a new Department of Education “College Dashboard” with key information, including completion rates;
  • more time for financial aid administrators to verify income; and
  • a simplified FAFSA application, linked to the IRS.

Additionally, Senate HELP Committee Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) June 19 released the Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency Act of 2014 (FAST Act).  Similar to other proposals, the measure would streamline federal student aid with three loans (undergraduate, graduate, and parent) and two repayment options (income-based and 10-year repayment). The FAST Act also would reduce the FAFSA to just two questions (family size and household income).

While HEA reauthorization isn’t likely to move until 2015, several more proposals are expected to be introduced before the mid-term elections this year. The AAMC and several higher education organizations last year submitted recommendations on HEA reauthorization, including the budget-neutral Debt in Health Education Loan Programs (DebtHELP) proposal [see Washington Highlights, Aug. 9, 2013].

Meanwhile, the House Ways and Means Committee June 25 approved the Student and Family Tax Simplification Act (H.R. 3393) that would consolidate three education tax benefits into an expanded, permanent American Opportunity Tax Credit. H.R. 3393 parallels a provision in the comprehensive tax reform package proposed by House Ways and Means Committee Chair Dave Camp (R-Mich.) in February [see Washington Highlights, Feb. 28].

In the Senate, Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) at a June 24 hearing supported simplifying education tax credits and asked a Treasury Department official to work with school guidance counselors to inform families about available benefits.


Matthew Shick, JD
Director, Gov't Relations & Regulatory Affairs
Telephone: 202-862-6116


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Washington Highlights, a weekly electronic newsletter, features brief updates on the latest legislative and regulatory activities affecting medical schools and teaching hospitals.

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