Congress is working to reauthorize the Higher Education Act

By: Gina Luke, assistant director, Governmental Relations Division

Access to higher education, cost of education, student loan interest rates, loan limits, repayment terms, forbearance, deferment, accreditation, education quality, and reporting requirements. These are just some of the many issues that Congress is examining as they work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA).

The HEA, originally signed into law in 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society agenda of domestic programs, authorizes the major federal student aid programs that are responsible for the majority of financial assistance to postsecondary students. The HEA must be re-approved, or “reauthorized,” by Congress, generally every five years. In addition to the major reauthorization bills, Congress also considers many bills that may directly or indirectly impact the HEA.

What will certainly be a focus for the HEA reauthorization this year are the roles that the U.S. Department of Education, accreditors and state licensing agencies have in postsecondary education. The functions of each have largely bled together in recent years. It is anticipated that Congress will also closely examine issues surrounding accreditation to determine whether the foundations of oversight need to be reformed. And while the issues of price and cost have been a central focus in previous HEA reauthorizations, it is expected that Congress will once again this year grapple with ways to address the cost of higher education borne by student borrowers and their families as well as the costs to taxpayers.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training began holding hearings on higher education issues last fall. The current goal is for each chamber of Congress to introduce their comprehensive reauthorization bills later this spring.

The AVMA is actively engaged in this process by evaluating many legislative proposals that either have or will soon be introduced that affect veterinary students. Lawmakers introducing bills dealing with various areas of higher education will be seeking to have their proposals included in the final HEA reauthorization bill that will pass Congress.  AVMA’s policy permits the organization to support legislation that would improve the terms and conditions of both private and federal student loans. To that end, the AVMA favors setting uniform interest rates for all federal student loans, capping interest rates at the same maximum for undergraduates and grad-professional students, and reinstating the in-school subsidy for all federal student loans.

To date, the AVMA has taken supportive positions on two education-related bills this Congress: H.R. 1716, the Earnings Contingent Education Loans (ExCEL) Act of 2013, and S. 113, the Know Before You Owe Private Student Loan Act of 2013. The AVMA has decided not to take action on another bill–H.R. 532, the Private Student Loan Bankruptcy Act/S. 114, Fairness to Struggling Students Act. Information on these three bills and the AVMA’s position is available in the AVMA’s legislative agenda.

While the AVMA hopes that Congress wraps up its work on the HEA reauthorization bill before the year ends, it is quite possible that lawmakers will grant themselves more time by temporarily extending the current law for a year. AVMA’s Governmental Relations Division will continue to provide updates on the Higher Education Act as the year continues.

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