public-policy newsletter

Higher Education Act Reauthorization Priorities

October 9, 2019

By Marie Camino

As Higher Education Act Reauthorization negotiations continue, The National Assembly continues to track its progress and prioritize the following issues.

Maintain and Expand 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.

Last Congress, we saw attacks on Pell Grant funding structure through insidious provisions that would increase funding in the short-term by awarding additional funds to students who take on more than a full-time course load, but deplete funding in the long-term by ending inflation adjustment for Pell Grants. The National Assembly supports maintaining the program at its current benefit level and eligibility rules.

Additionally, the National Assembly supports the extension of federal aid to Dreamers, a provision that was included in The Dream and Promise Act of 2019 (H.R. 6), which passed the House in June.

Protect TRIO Programs

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 assistance with college entrance exams and admissions applications, tutoring, and general assistance completing high school. All students deserve equal access to education, something that is not guaranteed in K-12 education. The National Assembly supports a full Higher Education Act Reauthorization that authorizes sufficient funding for TRIO programs, rather than subjecting them to fluctuating discretionary spending measures each fiscal year that greatly impacts program participation.

Continue and Refine Public Student 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. The program has seen many attacks by lawmakers, but is essential to the nonprofit community for its ability to attract and retain talent.

PSLF is notoriously difficult to navigate and actually receive. The National Assembly supports measures that would simplify the PSLF process, provide better communication to those enrolled in the program about what payments and loan types qualify, provide subsequent notices during the 10-year period, and to expand the types of loans and payments that qualify.

Sustain the Mandatory 7 Percent Set Aside in the Federal Work Study Program

Last Congress brought bipartisan attacks on a required 7 percent of funds to the Work Study Program to be allocated to support students working in community service organizations, incentivizing students to work in nonprofits and other community service positions as part of their work study requirements. This important component of the law provides opportunities for college students to support their education, build on their career interests, and invest their time and skills in the public interest. Currently, up to $190,000,000 annually supports students working in the nonprofit community service sector in communities around the country through the Federal Work Study Grant Program. This provision is at risk of being overlooked in any upcoming reauthorization bill.

The provision helps to build a field of diverse future educators, as current language prioritizes specific areas such as tutoring. Students from a broad range of academic disciplines often find pathways into teaching and education through these tutoring experiences. As other sections of the law consider teacher recruitment, diversity, and classroom experience, this creates a bridge between these components of the intentions of the Higher Education Act.

In January, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) introduced the Opportunities for Success Act of 2019 (H.R. 792), which modify the Federal Work Study Program and maintain the 7 percent requirement.

The National Assembly has partnered with the Afterschool Alliance on this issue. For more information on how to get involved, check out their factsheet and contact Erik Peterson, Vice President of Public Policy at Afterschool Alliance at