Higher Ed Policy Roundup

Week of March 20, 2017

This Week In Washington

On Tuesday, March 21, the House Education and Workforce Committee’s Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development held a hearing about improving federal student aid to better meet the needs of students.  There was no concrete proposal agreed to at the hearing because this was an initial foray into several of the issues the committee will examine when potentially reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.  The discussions centered on ideas that would help maintain access to higher education and help students better afford to attend college. Several proposals, across a wide-range of topics, were discussed, including simplifying the number of loan and grant programs, increasing the availability of institutional information, and modifying some currently funded programs. Watch the hearing here.

Also this week, the U.S. Department of Education issued a “Dear Colleague” letter that rescinds prior guidance offered by the Obama administration relating to loan guarantee agencies’ ability to charge certain fees to borrowers who are in default.  Under the previous guidance, these agencies were barred from charging fees (up to 16% of a loan’s principal and accrued interest), if the borrower entered the government’s loan rehabilitation program within 60 days of default. The Trump administration blocked the prior guidance because it wants to receive public comment on the policy; however, the Department has not stated when it will release new guidance.

And finally, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was scheduled to testify this week before a House Appropriations subcommittee about President Trump’s skinny budget but the hearing was abruptly postponed. This hearing, and one other, was delayed after the Office of Management of Budget’s director, Mick Mulvaney, wrote a memo stating that department leaders should not make comments about specific programs or cuts to programs contained in the President’s summary budget proposal. The appropriations subcommittee has not set a new date for the hearing.

News You Can Use

President Trump’s proposal to reduce Pell Grant funding and eliminate the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant will impact minority students at HBCUs and other minority serving institutions.

Some believe law school applications may be increasing in response to actions by the Trump administration.

Recent Legislation

The following bills have been introduced this week for consideration by the 115th Congress (2017-2018):

H.R. 1614 – Student Loan Refinancing Act [Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI-2)] would allow borrowers to refinance the interest rate of their federal Direct Loans.

H.R. 1635 – Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act [Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY-2)] would improve the timing, frequency, and content of financial counseling to ensure students have all the information they need to make responsible decisions about financing their college education.

H.R. 1656 – Higher Education Loan Payments (HELP) for Students and Parents Act [Rep. Pat Meehan (R-PA-7)] would provide incentives for employers to establish student loan repayment programs and to make contributions to qualified tuition programs on behalf of children of employees.

H.R. 1659 – Stop Taxing Death and Disability Act [Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL-6)] would eliminate the tax on student loan forgiveness for students who have died or become disabled.