James Hauschildt Looks at Higher Education Reauthorization Act (HERA)
The Higher Education Reauthorization Act (HERA) authorizes a range of federal aid programs to help students pursue postsecondary education. It also mandates financial assistance and increased access for low-income and first-generation students, and supports students pursuing international education and some graduate degrees. Today, approximately 75 percent of federal higher education student financial aid — which amounted to approximately $122.5 billion in 2017 — is allocated through HERA programs. Higher education and non-profit executive James Hauschildt says the HERA is without question the single most important piece of legislation overseeing and facilitating the relationship between the government, postsecondary institutions, and students.
Since its introduction in 1965, the HEA has been reauthorized by Congress eight times, starting in 1968 and most recently in 2008. Currently, members in both the House of Representatives and Senate are engaged in protracted negotiations on a draft proposal for a ninth reauthorization. The White House has also released 10 principles that it believes are necessary reforming and modernizing the HEA:
- Focus on student outcomes by reorienting the accreditation process, so that emphasis is on educational quality and student learning.
- Foster innovation in the education marketplace and increase access to market-driven workforce development programs.
- Improve the alignment of educational opportunities with the requirements of today’s workforce through avenues such apprenticeships and work-based learning.
- Hold postsecondary institutions that accept taxpayer funds accountable for student loan default.
- Help more students repay their loan debt and enter the workforce by accelerating program completion.
- Provide additional support to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
- Provide incentives for postsecondary institutions to control costs, and enable students to graduate with as little debt as possible. James Hauschildt adds that currently, student loan debt in the U.S. is nearing $1.5 trillion, which is an increase of more than 350 percent since 2003. In total, student loan debt is greater than credit card debt, vehicle loans, and home equity loans.
- Streamline and simplify student aid by consolidating five income-driven repayment options into a single plan capped at 12.5 percent of each student’s discretionary income, and extend loan forgiveness to all undergraduate students after 180 months of re-payment through an income-driven repayment plan.
- Provide more financial aid to individuals exiting the penal system, so they can get the education and training they need to successfully re-establish themselves in the workforce and community.
- Provide students with more information about prospective schools, such as graduate earning and outcome data.
Senator Lamar Alexander, Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, had declared a self-imposed deadline of May 31, 2019 for unveiling a draft of a bipartisan proposal for reauthorizing the HEA. Obviously, that milestone has come and gone. James Hauschildt comments that the prevailing sentiment is that both Republican and Democratic Senators — the latter camp led by ranking member Sen. Patty Murray — are making some progress on key points but are predictably bogging down on issues such as accountability, campus safety, and student loan repayments.
It is unclear what path HERA authorization will take from this point forward. The Atlantic staff writer Adam Harris has wryly observed that “deciphering whether or not a Higher Education Act reauthorization will actually pass can feel like trying to read tea leaves.” However, many inside and outside government are cautiously optimistic — or at least, not cynically pessimistic — that a deal will be reached in the relatively near future.
James Hauschildt’s Final Thoughts
Dr. Hauschildt concludes by stating: “This largely-bipartisan bill is aiming to help make federal regulations in higher education more simplified, support greater efficiency in operations, and improve service levels to students. However, many of us in higher education administration are concerned that the proposal will stall progress on decades of federal policy aimed at helping students afford a high-quality higher education, such as higher interest rates on student loans and the loss of approximately $1.5 million in financial aid grants.”