AVMA working hard on higher education legislation

Addressing Student Debt Driving Veterinary Success

On Dec. 12, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce completed a markup of a bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act – the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity Through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act. Despite a vigorous 14-hour debate, the committee chose to advance a version of the bill that contains several provisions negatively impacting the veterinary profession. As this bill moves forward for consideration by the House, the AVMA will continue working aggressively to improve the legislation and eliminate provisions that could exacerbate student debt.

One of the biggest debates during the markup was regarding the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which forgives student debt for individuals who have worked 10 years in the nonprofit or public sector while making on-time loan payments. The initial version of the bill – introduced by Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) – would effectively eliminate PSLF as an option for future borrowers by consolidating existing federal loan programs into a single federal loan program.

In advance of the markup, AVMA launched an aggressive campaign to protect PSLF. In addition to meeting regularly with lawmakers to discuss the importance of PSLF to veterinarians, we led a coalition of more than 120 animal health organizations in sending a letter to Congress in support of the program. We also joined a diverse coalition of organizations to amplify our efforts in support of PSLF. On the day of the markup, AVMA President Dr. Michael J. Topper penned an op-ed in The Hill, a major Capitol Hill newspaper, on why veterinarians need PSLF.

AVMA members were a significant part of this effort. Nearly 5,000 of you wrote or called your lawmakers in support of PSLF, including more than 2,000 on the eve of the markup. Additionally, dozens of you shared your personal experiences with PSLF so we could share them with lawmakers.

In response to our work, some lawmakers made significant efforts to preserve PSLF. During markup, Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) introduced an amendment that would maintain PSLF – during the debate, he discussed the outpouring of support from constituents for PSLF, and specifically mentioned the importance of the program to veterinarians. We worked directly with Rep. Courtney’s office on this amendment.

Ultimately, Rep. Courtney’s amendment failed. But that doesn’t mean our fight for PSLF is over. There will be opportunities to protect PSLF as the bill moves forward through the House, and as the Senate works to create its own legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. We’ll continue working with lawmakers to protect PSLF and keep our members informed of opportunities to advocate on this issue.

Unfortunately, the elimination of PSLF is not the only bad provision in the PROSPER Act. The bill proposes a cap $28,500 (or an aggregate limit of $150,000) for graduate and professional student loans, which could impact some veterinary borrowers. Additionally, it would wind down the Federal Perkins Loan Program, which is the lowest cost federal loan available to graduate students.

These are just a few examples of what this bill would do, as it covers a broad range of topics related to higher education. For instance, during markup, amendments were approved addressing issues including: Federal Work-Study funds for apprenticeship programs; hazing in student organizations; best practices from college addiction recovery programs; financial literacy; the definition of “competency-based education”; and speech policies at universities.

When Congress returns in 2018, higher education will be among the first orders of business. As the House moves forward with the PROSPER Act, the Senate is expected to hold additional roundtables and hearings with the goal of introducing a bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act in the first quarter of 2018.

While Congress works toward reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, AVMA will continuing meeting with House and Senate offices to advance key principles aimed at reducing the veterinary profession’s student debt burden.

Meanwhile, it’s important that Congress continue to hear from you in support of PSLF. If you’re concerned about this program, we encourage you to use our online tools to write or call your lawmakers. We’ll update members on additional opportunities to advocate on higher education issues; you can sign up for AVMA’s Congressional Advocacy Network to receive breaking updates.

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