by Mary Ellen Flannery
As the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) heats up this summer, faculty, staff and students have the opportunity to get their voices heard.
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As NEA sees it, the landmark legislation provides a key opportunity for Congress to make higher education more affordable and accessible to all Americans; to enhance teacher preparation programs so that new teachers are fully prepared to teach on day one; and to improve transparency and accountability in higher education, making sure that federal aid dollars go only to colleges and universities with high educational standards.
Your comments and personal stories about college affordability, teacher preparation, and transparency are especially useful and can help NEA advocate for a new HEA that supports students. Did you or do rely on Pell Grants to pay for college? Did a college-access program, like TRIO, make a difference in your life? To share your story, click here.
WHAT IS HEA?
First signed into law in 1965, the Higher Education Act governs the nation’s student-aid programs, while also providing direct aid to colleges and universities. It includes funding for Pell Grants, the cornerstone of federal aid for nearly 10 million of the poorest Americans, as well as the federal work-study program and college access programs like TRIO and GEAR UP. At the same time, the law also sets standards for the nation’s accreditation system, and uses federal funds to promote Congress’ priorities in higher education.
This year, the key issue is college affordability and the astronomical levels of student debt incurred by Americans seeking degrees. “My students are not statistics. They are real and their college debt is real,” said Theresa Montaño, president of NEA’s National Council for Higher Education, and a leader in the NEA Degrees Not Debt campaign.
Before Congress recessed this August, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) released a HEA proposal that focuses on college affordability and debt, as well as strengthening accountability and improving transparency. As Harkin put it,
For generations, a college education has been the pathway to the middle class, but new challenges are threatening that promise for many families in Iowa and across the country. The upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act… presents an historic opportunity for Congress to focus attention on college affordability and accountability, help borrowers with existing student debt, and increase transparency so students and families can make informed decisions.
WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE?
To help the millions of Americans who can’t afford skyrocketing tuition and fees, Harkin’s proposal calls for reinstating year-round Pell Grants, reductions in unfair fees to students borrowers, and a state-federal college affordability partnership to increase state funding for public higher education and lower the costs of tuition. His plan also would allow borrowers to discharge their loans during bankruptcy proceedings.
It’s a comprehensive approach to the reauthorization. Beyond the issue of college affordability, Harkin’s proposal also includes accountability provisions, particularly for for-profit colleges, including more disclosure from institutions about loan repayment rates; programs to improve teacher preparation; and funding for a demonstration project around competency-based education.
NEA strongly supports Harkin’s approach. Keeping in mind the $1.2 trillion that Americans owe in student debt, we have called on Congress to increase need-based student loan, make loans more affordable, and expand public-service loan forgiveness programs. NEA also is particularly interested in ways that the HEA can support teacher education. Teacher quality partnership grants, provided by HEA, can help create comprehensive residency programs that go beyond traditional student teaching and prepare teachers to be “profession ready” on their first day in the classroom.