Next Higher Education Reauthorization on the Horizon

The current Higher Education Act is due for reauthorization this year and this next version could bring significant changes.

First enacted in 1965 as part of LBJ’s “Great Society” programs, the Higher Education Act has been reauthorized nine times. The latest version, enacted in 2008, was five years overdue. So no one would be surprised if this reauthorization process spills into 2015.

Many innovations and new approaches to learning have emerged since the last legislation was enacted – along with some alarming trends, like rising tuition costs and higher levels of student debt. Today’s MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) did not exist when the last bill was written and online courses and degrees are now a growing model for both traditional and non-traditional educational institutions.

Since last year, both the Senate HELP Committee and the House Education and the Workforce Committee have been convening hearings to examine key issues ahead of drafting a new bill.

A few topics seem certain to be at the top of the list for attention: college costs and affordability; ways to cut or streamline regulation for institutions; and efforts to provide more standardized data and better disclosure to prospective students.

Student financial aid programs, Pell grants, online education, and institutional accountability are also sure to addressed.

The first draft bill may emerge this summer in the Senate following the conclusion of hearings and a special taskforce of university presidents working with the committee on the regulation issue.

With congressional primaries sprinkled throughout the year and congressional mid-term elections set for November, the legislative calendar is truncated. (A post-election lame duck session is likely, but that doesn’t leave much time for anything short of must-do legislation.) As much as all parties would like to see a new higher education bill completed, success may have to be measured in producing “marker” bills that outline positions and lead to more refinement in the next session of Congress.

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