House Starts In On HEA

Career College Central Summary:
  • Lawmakers approved three bills that are part of House Republicans’ piecemeal approach to rewriting the Higher Education Act, which expires at the end of this year but isn't likely to be reauthorized by then.
  • The measures all garnered bipartisan support Thursday, but many Democrats on the committee said they were concerned the bills did not go far enough in directly addressing the rising price of college and providing student loan borrowers with needed consumer protections.
  • Representative George Miller, the top Democrat on the panel, said it was “unconscionable” that lawmakers would not take action on the problem of student debt. “We must move quickly and decisively to make college more accessible and affordable, to increase oversight and quality assurance of colleges and loan servicers, and to promote new and innovative practices that can reduce student loan debt,” he said. “And this can only happen through a full-scale rewrite of the Higher Education Act.”
  • Representative John Kline, the Minnesota Republican who chairs the committee, defended his approach to putting forward a series of smaller-scale proposals, which he said was helping to increase bipartisan work on rewriting the law. “No doubt there is some skepticism about moving forward in what might be described as a piecemeal approach, but remember these are complicated issues,” he said. “A step-by-step approach will better-inform members and the public about the policies we are pursuing.”
  • The first bill approved Thursday was legislation that would create a more robust experimentation program for competency-based education at the Education Department. The Obama administration is currently using its existing authority to grant some colleges regulatory flexibility to experiment with innovative educational models, including competency-based education. The department is evaluating which applications to accept through that "experimental sites" program.  
  • House Republicans also rejected several efforts by Democrats Thursday to more aggressively change the Higher Education Act.
    Representative John Tierney proposed a new program that would have allowed students to refinance their existing student loan debt at lower interest rates. That proposal, which is part of Democrats’ election-year agenda, failed to advance in the Senate last month.
    Tierney, who is locked in a tight re-election race in Massachusetts, said that lawmakers had to choose between helping struggling student borrowers or millionaires. Under the proposal, the debt relief for students would be financed by ending tax breaks for high-income Americans.
    Republicans on the panel shot down Tierney’s amendment on procedural grounds. They similarly stopped an effort by Representatives Susan Davis and Mark Takano, both Democrats from California, to restrict the flow of federal dollars to for-profit colleges. That amendment would have included veterans’ benefits in the 90 percent cap on the share of their revenue that for-profit colleges may derive from federal government sources.
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