The fact that the Higher Education Act is coming up for re-authorization in 2018 could give GOP lawmakers the opportunity to drastically change the way higher education works for teachers, parents and students.
While it is unknown what if any changes could or would be made to the bill, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s new PROSPER Act does provide some insight into what lawmakers hope to achieve when reauthorizing the HEA.
Lawmakers drafting proposed changes to this bill are focusing their attention on minority colleges that primarily serve African Americans and/or Hispanic students. If proposed changes become part of the bill, any minority-serving college or university would be required to transfer or graduate at least 25% of their students in order to receive Title III and Title V funding.
It has been estimated that up to three dozen colleges and universities could losing their funding if this provision passes. At the same time, other institution that were not previously funded could begin receiving funding as the proposal also incorporates changes allowing Title III funding to be expanded to colleges and universities that have up until now been unable to obtain this funding.
Apprenticeships and other training programs are in the limelight yet again as Republican lawmakers seek to make it easier than ever for students to learn job skills outside of college and university.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the GOP’s proposed changes to the Higher Education Act is the fact that it could eliminate mandated credit hours, enabling educational institutions such as trade schools and vocational schools to use student competency as a measure of progress rather than simply mandating that students study or work for a set number of hours. This move could benefit those who are willing and able to learn skills quickly, enabling them to graduate to the next level of learning as soon as they are ready to. It would also prevent people who don’t have a grasp of the subject matter from graduating as students would be required to show that they can actually do the required tasks in order to receive a diploma.
At the same time, Democrats and progressives are criticizing this move by stating that it would enable for-profit colleges to create their own standards without any sort of government oversight. The fact that the GOP is also keen to end Obama-era protections against for-profit colleges is also not going over well with those who believe that extensive government oversight is necessary to prevent college and university students from being scammed by unscrupulous educational institutions.
There are also a number of highly controversial additions to this bill that may or may not make it to the Senate. The student loan forgiveness program for public sector workers, for example, would be eliminated; however, the change would only affect future graduates and not those who have already joined the loan forgiveness program. This particular provision has a higher chance of passing than other parts of the bill as Congress could lump it in with its budget bill and the Senate could pass it with a simple majority. Two other amendments that have generated a great deal of buzz are the provisions to ban free-speech zones and to withhold federal funding from public schools that refuse to recognize religious groups on campus.
Naturally, there is no guarantee that Republican lawmakers in either the House or Senate will be able to enact sweeping change in this arena. While the House will likely vote on the bill as is, the Republican chairman of the Senate Education Committee will most likely draft an entirely new bill with the collaboration of Democrat senator Patty Murray, a ranking member of the committee. If the bill manages to get through the Senate, the House would need to have another look at it and craft a reconciliation bill that would in turn be voted on by the Senate.
Even so, there is a very real chance that the GOP will enact change in the country’s higher education system this year. Parents, adult students, educators and even graduates who are still paying off loans would do well to keep an eye on developments in this arena as changes could be made that would have a powerful effect on citizens of all ages and walks of life.
~ Conservative Zone