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Higher Ed. Overhaul Would Change FAFSA, Along With Teacher-Prep Oversight

By Andrew Ujifusa — December 01, 2017 4 min read
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A bill to overhaul the Higher Education Act introduced by House Republicans on Friday contains significant changes to how high school students could apply for federal aid for college, the U.S. Department of Education’s role overseeing teacher preparation, and the information about colleges provided by the federal government to prospective students and their families.

The Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act was introduced by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the chairwoman of the House education committee, and Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., the chairman of subcommittee for higher education.

We covered key elements of the GOP push to reauthorize the Higher Education Act earlier this year. Here are a few key provisions of the new bill that impact K-12 students:

  • The bill aims to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by aligning it with separate information about families’ taxes. It would also allow students to complete the FAFSA using a mobile app, and require the form and the app to be “consumer-tested so it is clear and easy to use,” according to a bill summary. The length and complexity of the FAFSA have long been a subject of criticism from congressional Republicans, particularly Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate education committee.

    Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos discussed simplification of the FAFSA earlier this week. The legislation would also require “enhanced” college counseling for all students receiving federal financial aids, including those getting Pell Grants.

  • Foxx and Guthrie’s bill would also create a College Dashboard—a replacement for the current College Scorecard—that would provide average debt statistics from each college and university to prospective students. It would also link an institution’s College Dashboard page to each college or university that a prospective student lists on his or her FAFSA.

    However, the bill does not appear to establish a student-unit record that tracks various information about individual students in higher education. Foxx has long been skeptical of creating such records, although some advocates say they’d provide a step forward for expanded higher education data.

  • The PROSPER Act would end Title II of the current higher education law that deals with teacher preparation. Technically, that means the current requirement in Title II that states hold teacher-prep programs accountable would end. However, that wouldn’t necessarily be the end of accountability for those programs. Separate from the federal requirements, all states review their teaching programs, but a 2014 Education Week investigation found that those processes are lax.

    The change would also mean educator-preparation programs would no longer have to submit data to the federal government, and the U.S. Department of Education would no longer be required to collect and report that data.

    The Teacher Quality Partnership grants would also lose their authorization if Title II in the current law is repealed. Those grants, which are designed to improve teacher-prep programs, currently get $41.3 million in the federal budget.

  • The legislation would reauthorize the Pell Grant program through 2024, and would also make an increased variety of institutions eligible for forms of financial aid. However, it also would create “reasonable annual and aggregate limits” on various types of college borrowing. Those limits aren’t specified in the bill fact sheet and summary, however.

    Students receiving Pell Grants who complete at least 15 credit hours in a semester would get a $300 Pell “bonus.” And new grants would be created to fund apprenticeship programs.

“A hard truth that students, families, and institutions must face is that the promise of a postsecondary education is broken. We need a higher education system that is designed to meet the needs of today’s students and has the flexibility to innovate for tomorrow’s workforce opportunities,” Foxx and Guthrie said in a joint statement Friday.

However, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities criticized the plan, saying in a statement that, “The proposed legislation represents a step backwards on access and quality because it eliminates important student benefits and undermines accountability.”

Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act has been a top priority for Alexander and Foxx since the start of this year. However, getting the bill over the finish line will be no easy task. Democrats launched their own higher education initiative this summer that includes several legislative proposals, although their priorities could be largely excluded from an HEA rewrite. The federal higher education law was last reauthorized in 2008.

Read a PROSPER Act summary, from the House education committee.

Official photo of Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C.