National Human Services Assembly

Higher Education Act

Higher Education Act Reauthorization

The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) is important for building community well-being because it provides entryways for access to affordable and high-quality post-secondary education.

The National Assembly supports HEA reauthorization that makes college education affordable, provides opportunities for students to become high-quality educators themselves, aids K-12 students in preparation for higher education, helps low-income students afford college, and incentivizes careers in public service such as human services.

The HEA determines funding and availability for the following relevant programs and services:

Pell Grants

The Federal Pell Grant Program is the single largest source of grant aid for postsecondary education attendance funded by the federal government. The Federal Pell Grant Program provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain post-baccalaureate students to promote access to postsecondary education. Students may use their grants at any one of approximately 5,400 participating postsecondary institutions. Grant amounts are dependent on: (1) the student’s expected family contribution (EFC); (2) the cost of attendance (as determined by the institution); (3) the student’s enrollment status (full-time or part-time); and (4) whether the student attends for a full academic year or less. Students may not receive Federal Pell Grant funds from more than one school at a time. Federal Pell Grant lifetime eligibility is limited to 12 semesters or the equivalent. Pell Grants primarily aid low-income students and students of color, who traditionally shoulder the most student loan debt, and supports the long-term financial stability of students so that we can all thrive.


TRIO is made up of six discretionary grant programs that help students from disadvantaged backgrounds prepare for and complete higher education. These programs fulfill a wide range of services, including:

  • Helping students complete high school and enroll in college;
  • Providing tutoring, foreign language instruction, and assistance with college entrance exams and admissions applications, and;
  • Providing counseling related to financial and academic assistance available to students wanting to pursue higher education. These programs serve a range of demographics, including but not limited to: veterans with disabilities, high school students with disabilities, low-income high school students, and more.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF) forgives the remaining balance on qualifying student loans after the borrower has made 120 qualifying monthly payments. To be eligible for PSLF, borrowers must work within the public sector, including careers in education, state, local, or federal government, and qualifying nonprofit organizations.

Perkins Loans

Federal Perkins Loans are low interest federal student loans for undergraduate and graduate students who demonstrate financial need. Teachers, specifically, may be eligible for cancellation of up to 100 percent of a Federal Perkins Loan if they have worked as a full-time teacher in a public or nonprofit elementary or secondary school system serving low-income families, a special education teacher, or a teacher in any subject deemed by the state to have a shortage of qualified educators. For each full academic year (or its equivalent) of full-time teaching service, teachers are eligible to have a portion of their Perkins Loan canceled.

Both PSLF and Perkins Loan teacher cancellation incentivize public-service minded individuals to join the nonprofit sector as well as secondary education. This enables the public education and the nonprofit sector to more efficiently and effectively provide services, and that public education continues to attract committed educators, enhancing the quality of education for youth.

Federal Legislation in the 116th Congress:

While the topic of student loans has come up many times during the 2020 Presidential debates, Higher Education Act reauthorization legislation has not yet been introduced in the 116th Congress. Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) have both stated that legislation will be bipartisan, while separately delineating their individual priorities for the future of higher education.

Senator Alexander has stated that his priorities include streamlining the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), simplifying repayment plans, and implementing a new accountability system on colleges and universities based on borrowers’ progress in repaying their student loans. Currently FAFSA contains 108 questions. Senator Alexander has expressed support for cutting that number to around 24 questions. Additionally, he would reduce the number of options borrowers have for repayment to two, a ten-year repayment plan, and an income-based plan that would automatically deduct from a borrowers paycheck.

Senator Patty Murray also prioritizes simplification of the FAFSA, as well as additional funding for Pell Grants, increasing accountability for colleges and universities, campus safety, and developing a state-federal partnership that would promote new investments in students to provide more affordable pathways to a college education.

In March, 2019, the HELP committee held a hearing about financial aid simplification, and the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor has announced a series of hearings on the issue. The National Assembly will continue to monitor HEA reauthorization legislation in the 116th Congress.

Federal Legislation in the 115th Congress:


Last December, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce introduced its reauthorization legislation called the PROSPER Act. The bill is concerning because it would roll back key provisions that support students that are enrolled in early childhood educator training programs and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions has yet to release its own legislation, although Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) previously indicated a bill could be released in “early spring [2018].”

The PROSPER Act would, among other things:

  • Introduce a Pell Grant Bonus Award program, which would award students who enroll in more than a full-time workload leading to the completion of thirty or more credits in the academic year, $300 per year
  • End inflation adjustment for Pell Grants.
  • Cut funding for TRIO programs
  • End Perkins Loan cancellation for teachers.
  • Begin sunsetting the Public Service Loan Forgiveness. borrowers who take out loans before June 30, 2019 would still be eligible for PSLF, but beginning July 1, 2019, borrowers would pay off the amount of principle plus a maximum of 10 years’ interest as long as they are able. PSLF would be entirely phased out by October 1, 2024.

The National Assembly opposes any efforts to undermine programs designed to make higher education more accessible to youth, attract and retain passionate educators, and incentivize committed, talented individuals to work in the nonprofit sector.

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