Schools Fret Over Hits to Student Aid in Higher Ed Legislation

December 28, 2017 Emily Wilkins

This analysis was first available to Bloomberg Government subscribers

Colleges and universities have praised parts of a fast-moving House bill (H.R 4508) to update the Higher Education Act (Pub. L. No. 110-315), but they also have concerns, including provisions that could make college more expensive for low-income students.

Groups representing hundreds of colleges in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors said they didn’t get much time to weigh in on the House bill, as the nearly 600-page legislation was approved by the House education committee less than two weeks after bill text was made public. The bill’s markup also coincided with a major tax overhaul that contained several provisions colleges lobbied against.

The bill should come to the floor for a vote early in 2018, if Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), chairwoman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, succeeds in announced efforts to arrange a vote with the House leadership. This would give groups representing colleges little time to lobby on the legislation.

“We’re going to try to get some amendments to make changes and address some of our major concerns within the bill, but we are not optimistic,” Mollie Benz Flounlacker, associate vice president for federal relations with the Association of American Universities, told Bloomberg Government. “It’s our sense that House leadership wants to drive this legislation through as fast as they can without allowing much change.”

Schools Look to Senate

Senate lawmakers are also preparing to move a bill in 2018, with the heads of the education committee—Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.)—already meeting on prospective legislation. The Senate is expected to hold several hearings on higher education issues before producing a bipartisan bill that colleges hope won’t contain language that could make college more expensive, Jon Fansmith, director of government relations with the American Council on Education, said in an interview.

“Anything that moves forward on the idea of taking out aid and making it more expensive for students to go to college, we will have a nearly impossible time supporting,” he said. “That’s the marker we will look at for the Senate.”

Among House bill provisions that colleges find objectionable are ending loan forgiveness for workers in the public sector and nonprofits, as well as eliminating the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, a $733 million program that serves low-income students at about 3,700 schools.

The bill would also lower the cap on how much graduate students are able to take out in federal loans and prevent them from using work-study programs to help pay for college, according to Sarah Flanagan, vice president of government relations with the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

“There’s just this whole attack on graduate students, which would leave it so only wealthy graduate students from wealthy families can go to graduate school,” she told Bloomberg Government. “People who can’t afford it would be left in the cold.”

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