The 1st Session of the 116th Congress began in January 2019 with an expectation among legislators that this year would be the one to resolve issues for a most important piece of legislation know as the Higher Education Act. Last reauthorized in 2008, since 2013 it has been sustained by a series of short-term continuing resolutions (CRs). As of June 2019, some doubt continues to exist regarding whether the task can be completed by the end of this year. Teams consisting of staff members for Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chairman of the Committee on Health, Education Labor & Pensions (HELP), and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) have been working to produce a bill that can achieve bipartisan agreement. An inability to meet their self-imposed deadline of having a bipartisan proposal finished by the end of May would appear to render it unlikely that a bill can be brought to the Senate floor any time soon.

This massive piece of legislation consists of many components, any one of which has the potential to create more delay. Examples are: simplifying the federal student aid application, creating a new income-based repayment plan for borrowers, building a new accountability system for colleges based on whether borrowers actually are repaying their loans, expanding competency-based education programs, requiring colleges to use clearer language in letters telling students about the aid they are receiving, Title IX campus sexual assault incidents, and collecting better data on how much students borrow and how much they earn after graduation. Other aspects include allowing incarcerated individuals to access Pell Grants and making grants available for shorter academic programs. Worth noting is that some current issues not easily resolved are accountability as it relates to the for-profit sector and student loan repayments.

Federal Work-Study (FWS) Experiment Launched

U.S. Secretary of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced a new Federal Work-Study (FWS) Experiment to provide institutions with increased flexibilities that will enable students to earn work-study benefits while participating in apprenticeships, internships, and work-based learning programs, as well as earn work-study wages while completing required clinical rotations, externships, and student teaching. “For decades, the Federal Work-Study program has allowed students to support themselves while earning a college degree, but for too long, the majority of the work options students have had access to have been irrelevant to their chosen field of study,” she stated. Under the current FWS program, nearly 92% of all funds are spent to support students in on-campus employment, while just over 8% support students working for non-profit organizations. Less than one-tenth of 1%, or just $726,000 of the billion-dollar FWS program, are spent to support students in private-sector employment, where many students are likely to seek permanent employment. The experiment is aimed at eliminating barriers that made engagement with private-sector employers undesirable for many colleges and universities.

Proposed Regulations On Accreditation, Innovation And Other Topics

The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) on June 12, 2019 published proposed regulations on accreditation, innovation, and other topics, reflecting the draft consensus language approved by the negotiated rulemaking committee that met earlier this year and reached consensus on April 3. The proposed regulations would affect several areas involving accreditation, including: increase expectations by USDE concerning student achievement; provide more flexibility for innovation for institutions and accrediting organizations; and increase the time for institutions and programs to come into compliance with accreditation requirements.

Two aspects of interest for institutions belonging to ASAHP are: (1) Establish that the Department recognizes an institution’s legal authorization to operate postsecondary educational programs when it is exempt from State authorization under the State constitution or by State law as a religious institution with a religious mission, and (2) Revise the State authorization requirements for institutions offering distance education or correspondence courses.

A public comment period began on June 12, 2019 and is in effect until July 12, 2019. Comments can be submitted electronically here.

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