Pre Thanksgiving D.C. Dispatch: Higher Education Affordability Act

November 20, 2014

Today, Senator Tom Harkin (IA) released a revised Higher Ed Act bill:

As released by the Senator's office, Harkin’s Higher Education Affordability Act includes the following provisions:

Increasing Affordability and Reducing College Costs for Students Now By:

  • Creating a State-Federal College Affordability Partnership to increase state investment in public higher education and lower the costs of tuition for students.
  • Reinstating year-round Pell Grants to enable students to get their degrees faster.
  • Creating a “Pell Bonus” Demonstration project to incentivize institutions to enroll and graduate more low-income students.
  • Creating a competitive grant program to fund partnerships between industry and two-year colleges to help students gain skills valued in the labor market.
  • Creating a state competitive grant program to drive statewide innovations and reforms of higher education systems to increase college access and persistence. 
  • Eliminating origination fees on federal Direct Loans in order to save students money.
  • Authorizing the First in the World (FITW) program to provide competitive funding directly to public and private non-profit institutions to test out new innovative practices to help institutions decrease costs and increase college completion.
  • Expanding access to dual enrollment and early college high school programs to help students earn college credit while they are in high school.
  • Reauthorizing the campus-based aid programs (SEOG, Work Study and the Perkins loan programs) with reforms that better reward institutions that are serving students well.

Tackling the Student Loan Crisis by Helping Borrowers Better Manage Debt by:

  • Strengthening student loan servicing standards through the creation of common-sense consumer protections.
  • Streamlining repayment plans to create a single income-based repayment option with affordable monthly payments for struggling borrowers.
  • Helping severely delinquent borrowers avoid default by automatically enrolling them into income-based repayment.
  • Allowing private student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy.
  • Reforming abuses in the collections process and reducing unfair fees that hurt the most vulnerable borrowers.

Holding Schools Accountable to Students and Taxpayers By:

  • Providing students and policy makers with more meaningful disclosures and accountability metrics from schools, including loan repayment rates.
  • Establishing a risk-sharing commission to explore holding low-performing institutions financially responsible for poor student outcomes.
  • Protecting taxpayers by changing the 90-10 rule for for-profit schools to 85-15.
  • Guaranteeing that federal education dollars are not used on advertising and marketing.
  • Creating a student complaint system to better track harmful practices and help students get relief.
  • Authorizing several programs to reform and improve teacher and school leader preparation.
  • Establishing enhanced civil penalties for institutions that misrepresent their admission requirements, the transferability of credits from the institution, and the ability of students to sit for licensing exams or obtain certifications required as a precondition of employment. 
  • Providing state attorneys general with the ability to bring suit for such misrepresentations.
  • Strengthening existing prohibitions on incentive compensation.
  • Creating strong programmatic accreditation rules for programs designed to prepare students for careers requiring licensing or other certification.

HelpingStudentsand Families Make Informed Choices By:

  • Providing notification to middle and high school students of their potential eligibility for federal aid.
  • Providing better up-front information and disclosures to prospective students.
  • Standardizing the financial aid award letter to help students and their families better understand financial aid packages when deciding where to go to college.
  • Strengthening entrance and exit loan counseling by ensuring more comprehensive and easy to understand information is given to borrowers.
  • Creating a student unit record system to better track college completion, cost, and progression at each institution.
  • Publishing finalized accreditation documents and audits to increase transparency for students and policymakers.”