Congressional Quarterly: Higher Ed Reauthorization To Move This Year, Alexander Predicts

Posted on March 17, 2015

The chairman of the Senate education committee is optimistic that a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (PL 110-315) will move quickly later this year.

“This is a train that’s likely to move down the track and onto the station by the end of the year,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., told a group of college presidents at the American Council for Education conference Tuesday.

The bill will be the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee’s first order of business after it finishes rewriting the elementary and secondary education law commonly known as No Child Left Behind (PL 107-110).

Alexander is optimistic the bill will move because it has bipartisan support “in a town that’s not known for that.”

His Democratic counterpart, Patty Murray of Washington, will be very involved in the reauthorization, as will the president, who has worked well with Congress on higher education issues in the past, Alexander said.

The House will move on its own track – potentially faster than the Senate – and then the chambers will go to a conference, he said.

The bill also will rework the accreditation process, Alexander said. Currently, regional and program-specific accrediting groups visit each college at set intervals and verify each school’s offerings. Accreditation is required to be eligible to receive federal financial aid.

Accrediting should focus on “the right thing,” Alexander said, adding that the focus should be on “academic quality, instead of random other stuff that accreditors often get themselves involved in.”

The measure also would focus on simplifying the current federal financial aid application – a concept the president has embraced, Alexander noted – and simplifying information provided to students and their parents.

Other provisions in the bill may include reinstituting year-round Pell grants or requiring an independent review of how the Education Department issues guidance documents and calculates compliance costs for schools, Alexander said.

He said he would like to get rid of the so-called “gainful employment” regulations the Obama administration has issued that require for-profit colleges to show their graduates have low student loan debt as compared to earnings.

“There are bad apples lots of places in a marketplace of 6,000 institutions. If we’re going to have a policy to get rid of bad apples, we ought to look for them everywhere, not just in one sector of higher education,” he said.

A report on the overregulation of higher education that ACE produced will be a large part of the reauthorization, Alexander said. It offered 59 specific recommendations for regulations that should be altered, and Congress will include as many of those recommendations as possible, he said.

Alexander urged the presidents in attendance to lobby home state senators, starting with members of the HELP Committee. A group of 50 senators trying to persuade a colleague won’t have the weight of a meeting with a home state college president on these issues, he  added.