Washington Watch: House committee passes HEA reauthorization bill

The House Education and the Workforce Committee convenes on Wednesday to mark up the College Cost Reduction Act. (Screenshot of streamed event)

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Wednesday approved on a party-line vote the College Cost Reduction Act (CCRA, H.R. 6951), a Republican-backed Higher Education Act reauthorization bill.

The measure now may be considered on the House floor, but further action is very unlikely in the Democratically controlled Senate. The American Association of Community Colleges sent a letter to the committee on the eve of the markup outlining positive and negative aspects of the bill from its perspective.

CCRA would fundamentally change many aspects of the Higher Education Act, including a new risk-sharing scheme that would hold some institutions accountable for missed student loan payments or interest forgiven to their former students. The payments made by institutions under this process would partially fund a new grant program that would benefit other institutions that scored better on a formula based on the earnings of former students and the tuition charged to them.

Other notable aspects of the bill include substantial changes to accreditation, a cap on the amount of aid a student may receive pegged to the median cost across all institutions of the program they are enrolled in, and a new student-level data system that is limited to Title IV recipients.

Differences and some agreement

Committee Republicans and Democrats clashed over whether the legislation would decrease the cost of college for students. Committee Chair Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina) said in her opening statement that the bill is a “complete restructuring of the incentives that drive tuition increases.”

Committee Democrats argued that rather than cutting costs, changes made by the bill would increase the cost of college for many students by limiting the aid they currently receive and thereby pushing them into more expensive private loans. But some provisions in the bill enjoy bipartisan support, including the elimination of student loan origination fees and capitalized interest and the concept of simplifying loan repayment options.

SEOG back in

The legislation passed by the committee made one key change from the originally introduced bill. The original bill established a “Pell Plus” program that would increase Pell Grant awards for certain students in their junior and senior years and eliminated the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants program. The committee-passed bill reinstated SEOG and nixed the Pell Plus program.

Just prior to the markup, committee Democrats released their “Roadmap to College Student Success,” which highlights several previously introduced Democratic bills that would (among other things) double the Pell Grant maximum award, provide for free community college tuition and establish a student-level data system for all students. The proposals in these bills were the basis for many of the amendments offered by Democrats at the markup. None of these amendments were approved, and Republicans offered none of their own except for an amendment in a nature of a substitute.

About the Author

Jim Hermes
Jim Hermes is associate vice president of government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.