Senate Higher Education Bill Focuses on Affordability

The bill comes after months of bipartisan hearings – 12 in total – to discuss the role the federal government, state education agencies and accreditation institutions should have in overseeing the nation’s system of higher education. The bill focuses on making college more affordable, increasing schools’ accountability, promoting transparency about college costs and helping struggling borrowers.

Some of its main proposals include reinstituting a year-round Pell Grant (students currently cannot receive grant money during the summer), creating a streamlined income-based repayment system for student loans and creating a record system that would track student-level details, such as loan repayment outcomes and future earnings.

“A college education has long been an essential pathway to the middle class, with states, the federal government, students and families all doing their part when it comes to costs,” Harkin said in a statement. “Unfortunately this history of shared responsibility has eroded, forcing students and families to pay more than ever before. At the same time, a lack of accountability and transparency makes deciding where to go to school and how to pay for it a far more confusing and potentially risky process.”

The House education committee, led by Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., released its reauthorization proposal over the summer in four smaller bills that respectively focus on simplifying the financial aid application process; increasing transparency by creating a centralized “College Dashboard” containing information on student outcomes; increasing financial awareness by providing counseling options for students and families; and promoting innovation through competency-based education pilot programs.

All but the first bill have been passed in the chamber, but Democrats have criticized the House package for not doing enough to curb the high cost of college.

To tackle college affordability, Senate Democrats are aiming to eliminate federal student loan origination fees and expand access to dual enrollment and early college programs to help students earn college credit sooner. They also want to create a “Pell Bonus” project that would give colleges an incentive to enroll and serve low-income students. Severely delinquent student loan borrowers additionally would be automatically enrolled in an income-based repayment plan to help them avoid default. Reed more….