Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act

Following is a brief summary of the renewal of the Higher Education Act (HEA), which took five years, dozens of drafts, and a total of 14 extensions before it was passed by Congress last week.  The bill, which is meant to set key aspects of federal higher-education policy, totals 1,158 pages and will be in effect, unless changed or amended, for the next five years.   The President signed the bill into law on August 14.

College Costs & Transparency

  • Requires the Secretary of Education to publish an annual, searchable list of tuition and fees, average price after grant aid, recent price increases, and change in per-student spending for all institutions of higher education in the country.
  • Requires the Secretary of Education, beginning in 2010, to publish lists of colleges and universities based on tuition and fees, as well as net tuition, by type of institution: the 5% most expensive institutions in the country, the 10% least expensive institutions in the country, the 5% of institutions that had the largest percentage increase over three years.  Those in the last category must report to the Secretary of Education the reasons for tuition increases and how they plan to cut costs.
  • Directs college textbook publishers to provide pricing information to faculty to aid in their purchasing decisions; directs college bookstores to provide textbook information to students early so that they are aware of the textbook costs associated with each course; and requires publishers to provide pricing information on "unbundled" versions of every "bundled" textbook they sell.
  • Includes provisions to address conflicts of interest and questionable practices in the student loan industry and provides for students and families to receive full and fair information when taking out and repaying loans, including the terms and conditions of both federal and private student loans.

Student Assistance

  • Increases the maximum Pell grant award from $5,800 to $8,000, and allows for the Pell program to be used year-round, for certificate programs, and by part-time students; strengthens the TRIO and GEAR UP college readiness and support programs for low-income and first-generation students; and reauthorizes the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (SEOG) and the Work Study program.
  • Includes a new $10,000 loan-forgiveness program for individuals serving in high-needs areas, including early childhood educators, nurses, foreign language specialists, librarians, teachers, child welfare workers, school counselors, public sector employees, and mental health professionals, among others.
  • Simplifies the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA); creates an easy-to-navigate two-page FAFSA-EZ form for low-income families; ensures that students and families begin to receive information earlier in the college application process; and encourages the U.S. Department of Education to coordinate with the Internal Revenue Service to use financial information the government has already gathered.
  • Establishes a national center to provide support services and best practices for colleges, students with disabilities, and their families; helps colleges to recruit, retain, and graduate students with disabilities and improves materials and facilities; and expands eligibility for Pell Grant scholarship and other need-based aid for students with learning disabilities.

International Education Programs

  • Authorizes grant programs designed to produce increased numbers of graduates who are trained in foreign language and international studies, including access to research and training overseas and the coordination of federal programs in foreign languages, area studies, and other international studies.

New Programs

  • Creates a grant program to help colleges and universities design and implement environmentally sustainable practices and convenes the first-ever higher education summit on sustainability to examine the implementation of energy-efficient and sustainable practices on campus.
  • Authorizes programs to encourage institutions to keep tuition costs down, including rewarding institutions for low tuition, cooperative education grants, reducing campus-based digital theft, and using textbook-rental programs.
  • Authorizes programs to address needs in critical areas, including the development of programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and in support of the teaching of American history, the expansion of nursing and veterinary programs, and the creation of a center for increasing and promoting digital technology.
  • Authorizes programs to remove barriers for students entering the field of teaching, including the reauthorization of the Teach for America program.
  • Creates a grant program to assist institutions of higher education in developing and implementing state-of-the-art emergency systems and procedures, and provides assistance to institutions in the development of policies, procedures, and practices to be used in case of emergency.

Studies, Reporting, and Accreditation

  • Directs studies in four distinct areas: financial aid; institutional organization, practice, and challenges; programs and policies of the U.S. Department of Education; and issues facing higher education, such as minority-male achievement, bias in standardized testing, and teaching students with disabilities.
  • Includes a host of new institutional reporting requirements, including campus crime reports, campus emergency response, fire safety, drug and alcohol prevention, retention rates, textbooks, vaccine policies, and transfer of credit, among others.
  • Protects the current system of accreditation allowing colleges - not the federal government - to set their own standards for student learning, and overhauls the Education Department’s Advisory committee on accreditation issues.