Both chambers were in session this week. Members will remain in their districts next week for the 4th of July holiday.
HEA Reauthorization Proposals Emerge
After an abundance of hearings, the House and Senate education committees finally unveiled their visions for reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA). The Chairmen of the two committees are taking significantly different approaches, both with regard to content and format. Senate education committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) intends to advance comprehensive legislation, whereas House education committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) intends to introduce several smaller bills that would be considered independently. Chairman Kline has said that he expects the House to vote on a few of the bills before the midterm elections. While it is still clear that reauthorization will not be possible this year, these proposals will serve as a foundation for discussions early next year.
The proposals were drafted by the Majority in each Committee, which has made them predominantly partisan. Chairman Harkin's bill, entitled the Higher Education Affordability Act (HEAA), reflects his commitment to increase consumer protections for student loan borrowers, and institute greater oversight and accountability measures on for-profit colleges. Chairman Kline's proposals, which he outlined in a white paper, reflect his determination to block a number of initiatives taken by the Administration, including the proposed college rating system and gainful employment regulations. To control college costs, he calls for removing overly burdensome federal requirements. He has introduced three bills so far: one that would streamline the student aid application process, another geared to improve consumer information and streamline existing transparency efforts, and a third bill that would boost financial literacy through enhanced counseling for federal financial aid recipients.
There are, however, some similarities. Most notably, both press for a version of year-round Pell grants, strengthening financial counseling for students, using prior-prior year income tax data for financial aid processing, and streamlining student loan repayment.
Chariman Harkin has announced that he will be accepting comments from interested stakeholders until August. OGR will be working with Vice President for Academic Affairs Christophe Pierre, as well as the camlpus financial aid offices to review the bill and compile feedback.
Higher Ed Tax Simplification Moves Forward
There was some energy on the Hill this week around tax benefits for higher education. The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on Tuesday to explore ways to lower student debt by improving education tax incentives. On Wednesday, the House tax-writing committee took up the Student and Family Tax Simplification Act, a student tax benefits consolidation bill sponsored by Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL). The bill would take a positive step in simplifying many complex higher education tax provisions by consolidating four tax benefits—the tuition deduction, the Hope Credit, the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), and the Lifetime Learning Credit—into a single, updated, and permanent AOTC. In doing so, it preserves existing income thresholds, which would allow the AOTC to still be available to middle-income students.
OGR has been in close communication with Rep. Davis' office since the bill was first introduced last October. There are some remaining concerns about the legislation's impact on graduate students, and we are working with other universities in the state to improve the bill before it would be brought to the floor, the timing of which is uncertain.
Campus Sexual Assault Roundtables Wrap Up
This week was the 42nd anniversary of Title IX, which protects individuals from gender-based discrimination in education programs that receive federal financial assistance.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, who has been spearheading Senate efforts to address sexual violence on college campuses, chaired the final roundtable in a series of discussions held by her subcommittee. The subject of the hearing was the coordination between campus administrative processes and local criminal justice systems in addressing cases of campus sexual assault. Although Sen. McCaskill originally anticipated introducing legislation immediately after the roundtables concluded, she has since said that she expects to file legislation after August recess.
The Senate education committee also held a hearing on campus sexual assault on Thursday. There were two panels, the first of which included representatives from the Department of Education, and the second of which included survivors and a researcher. The hearing was part of the Committee's series of hearings on the Higher Education Act, and focused on Title IX and the Clery Act.
Hope Rekindled for Network of Regional Manufacturing Institutes Legislation
House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith renewed hope this week for the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation (RAMI) Act, legislation which would establish a network of advanced manufacturing institutes. This legislation is significant: not only would it establish new hub opportunities for which the university could compete (or partner) going forward, but it would also enable Chicago's Digital Lab for Manufacturing to be more impactful by linking together a larger network of institutes as NNMI's "nerve center." Chairman Smith has been working with the bill's sponsors, Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III and Rep. Tom Reed, to garner bipartisan support and find offsets. Although the funding has been reduced in the revised measure, it would match the committee-approved Senate companion, increasing the likelihood that the bill could clear both chambers. This past April, UI President Robert Easter endorsed this legislation and provided a letter of support. Chairman Smith has said that he is aiming to have his committee mark up the bill in July.