By Mary Ellen Flannery
For Enrique Farrera, an academic advisor from Clackamas Community College in Oregon, the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act is about affordability and access—and that’s what he told Oregon legislators in their Capitol Hill offices last week.
On Thursday, members of the NEA Board of Directors flanked Capitol Hill, making personal pleas to state lawmakers on behalf of the College Affordability Act, as well as a school modernization bill and other legislation. Inside the offices of four U.S. Representatives, Farrera made the case for legislation that he believes will pay dividends in Oregon’s communities for decades to come. “This is what higher education is about—it’s not about the immediate pay-off, it’s about investing in your communities and the people who live and work in those communities.”
In calling on Congress to pass the College Affordability Act (H.R. 4674), educators are asking for a long-overdue, comprehensive reauthorization of the 1965 landmark Higher Education Act (HEA), last reauthorized in 2008. At the time of its original passage, the law promised to “swing open a new door for the young people of America…the most important door that will ever open—the door to education,” said President Lyndon Johnson, as he signed it into law.
That original promise—to provide a gateway to the American Dream through access to higher education—still holds true, educators say. However, because “it hasn’t been reauthorized in so long,” says National Council of Higher Education President DeWayne Sheaffer, the 12-year-old law doesn’t fully reflect current conditions on U.S. campuses, including the need for more, diverse educators and the rising cost of higher education.
The House bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and passed by the House education committee in October, would do several things, including:
- Lower the cost of college for students and families by increasing and extending Pell Grants for low-income students, and creating “America’s College Promise,” a federal-state partnership that would provide federal funds to states that invest in public colleges and make community college tuition-free.
- Help educators with student loan debt by protecting and improving the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Importantly, the bill expands eligibility to contingent, or adjunct faculty of institutions of higher education.
- Protect taxpayers and students by maintaining Obama-era rules around for-profit colleges, including protections that help defrauded students, and closing loopholes that make it easier for for-profit colleges to prey on veterans.
- Make campuses safer by blocking Betsy DeVos’ Title IX rules, which would enable rapists to confront and question their victims, and requiring campuses to keep better records of hazing and harassment acts.
- Improve teacher preparation by reauthorizing the Teacher Quality Partnership Grant program, strengthening teacher-prep programs with residency-based models and grow-your-own programs, and providing grants to increase the diversity of the educator profession.
NEA strongly supports the bill: “Fifty-four years later, the College Affordability Act will bring our nation much closer to fulfilling HEA’s promise,” wrote NEA Director of Government Relations Marc Egan, in October.
[To urge your Senator or Representative to support the College Affordability Act, visit the NEA Action Center.]
In his lobbying efforts, Farrera makes sure Oregon’s senators and representatives understand how these measures will affect residents of their districts. “When I lobby for NEA, I study up, do my homework, and get myself familiarized with the legislation. I want to relate the bill to their districts, so that I can say, ‘this will support the community college in your district,’ or ‘this will help families and educators in your district.’”
For Farrera, the professional growth opportunities embedded in the College Affordability Act are critical, as is the bill’s expansion of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program to contingent and adjunct faculty. “Furthermore, it will help reduce the cost of tuition, helping colleges and universities expand access to marginalized communities,” he says.
Last week, Oregon lawmakers told him “they deeply appreciate the work of NEA members and the value of community colleges and four-year universities,” he says. For his part, he told them that they’d be seeing him again soon. “I always tell them, ‘I’ll see you at your next event, or your town-hall meeting,’ so, they know I’m an active constituent.”