How Might a Re-authorization of the Higher Education Act Under the 115th Congress Effect You?

The Higher Education Act was introduced to the 89th Congress of the United States in 1965 and shortly thereafter signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The bill is one part of a series of domestic programs intended to fulfill President Johnsons “Great Society” Initiative (a political campaign to eliminate racial injustice and poverty). Since its passage in 1965 it has been reauthorized on average every 5 years; leaving a current re-authorization 3 years overdue.

“Our Society will not be great until every young mind is set free

to scan the furthest reaches of thought and imagination.”

- President Lyndon B. Johnson

The HEA is 432 pages long, and contains 11 titles that cover virtually every aspect of Higher Education in the United States. Its provisions are shaped by congress, in conjunction with the Department of Education, and address issues ranging from accreditation standards, to sexual misconduct policies, to requirements on lenders of educational loans, to teacher quality enhancement programs, and more.

Renewed discussions surrounding the re-authorization of the HEA come during an incredibly uncertain political time, and potential changes have the ability to impact every student enrolled in a post-secondary education program. Through campaign rhetoric and a series of recent executive orders, Donald Trump has made clear that his major priorities will be immigration, jobs, and healthcare (or a lack thereof). However, it is difficult to imagine that education, specifically the re-authorization of HEA, will not reach agenda status during his term. With the nomination of Betsy Devos for Secretary of Education and Republican control in the House, Senate, and White House, I have complied a short list of three key issues on which to fix a watchful eye:

1. Gainful Employment under Title I of the HEA

Gainful employment is a system that measures how successful a University is in preparing students for employment upon graduation, while also considering the amount of student loan debt they obtain throughout their education. The Gainful Employment provision has successfully allowed for a crackdown of abuses on unsuspecting consumers by for-profit institutions. Much of this success is due in part to a series of regulations rolled out by the Obama Administration that required for-profit institutions to provide prospective students with graduation and job placement rates. Under President Trump there is much speculation as to what may happen to these, and other regulations that protect students from unscrupulous for-profits institutions. These concerns come as Donald Trump settles a 25 million dollar lawsuit with the students of now defunct Trump University, and as Betsy Devos testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee that “We will certainly review that [Gainful Employment] rule and see that it is actually achieving what the intentions are” (side note: Betsy Devos has publically been in favor of rolling back these regulations in the past, and Donald Trump has been a long time proponent of for-profit institutions).

2. Aid to Minority Oriented Institutions under Title III

Title III of the HEA provides funding to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s), Hispanic-oriented Institutions (HOI’s), Tribal Colleges, and more. Donald Trump has made it clear that he plans to dramatically cut the Department of Education, stating in an interview on October 18th with FOX News Chris Wallace “if we don’t eliminate it [The Department of Education] completely, we certainly need to cut its power and reach”. The “power” and “reach” in which candidate Trump was referring was discussed during a conversation of education spending cuts. Cuts that would inevitably slash federal assistance to HBCU’s, HOI’s, and Tribal Colleges. Sam Clovis, Trump Campaign Policy director, issued a number of statements in May of 2016 that promoted a revitalization of the system in which private banks issue federal student loans. Not only would a “revitalization” return power to banks who have for decades engaged in predatory lending practices against minorities, it would also drastically reduce the Federal Governments ability to control college accessibility, and in return place students at the mercy of profit driven institutions.

3. Federal Higher Education Subsidies under Title IV

Under the Trump Administration it is likely that there will be massive cutbacks and changes in distribution of Pell Grants to low-income students, disguised as “funding reprioritization”. Dramatic cuts

in spending to the Department of Education could have devastating impacts on the 33 billion dollars in Pell Grants awarded to over 9 million low-income students annually. Nominee Devos and President Trump have routinely praised “School Choice” programs, and it is possible that the restrictions regarding Pell Grants may be amended to financially benefit voucher and school choice participants. Millions of low-income students rely on the federal government to provide more affordable and accessible opportunities to attend college, however changes to the Pell Grant provisions under Title IV of the HEA could discourage many students pursuits in receiving a post secondary education.

While being informed and observant about the HEA and of the three key issues I highlighted is important, I encourage you to also pay attention to the creation of “loan worthiness” programs, school choice and voucher programs, the repeal of common core learning standards, and of any student loan privatization plans. As individuals who are receiving a post-secondary education, it is important that we always remain vigilant and speaks up on the importance of college accessibility and affordability!

Written by Walt Grayson; Junior Political Science Major with a Concentration in Pre-Professional Legal Studies and International and Comparative Politics at Appalachian State University. Grayson is the Director of Legislative Operation for the ASU Student Government Association and plans to attend Law School upon graduation. His long-term aspirations include Public Interest Law and The Tort Reform Lobby.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The University of North Carolina or The University of North Carolina Association of Student Governments.

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