The Higher Education Act

Congress should implement policy changes that improve the federal aid process.

Congress will soon be gearing up to renew the Higher Education Act, which expires at the end of the year. The HEA determines, among many other things, the federal subsidies given to students and colleges and how they are awarded.

The version of the bill passed in 2008, while successfully simplifying the application process for student aid, largely failed to make tuition more affordable. Some states, including Minnesota, have not been held accountable for cuts to higher education, which have contributed to the rising cost of college.

Most lawmakers can agree to the importance of higher education and that college affordability continues to be a pressing issue. Given these shared starting points, we are hopeful Congress can make significant improvements in how federal aid is delivered and how loans are repaid.

A variety of organizations and interest groups have drafted reports with an array of recommendations regarding federal student aid. While there is no shortage of disagreements, a report written by Beth Akers, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, outlines several potential policy reforms that have broad support. These reforms include enrolling all borrowers into an income-based repayment program, delivering financial aid eligibility information to students before they start looking at colleges, and eliminating the FAFSA and instead using the IRS to determine student aid eligibility.

These policy initiatives all work to simplify the process, and the idea to create an income-based repayment program acknowledges that the salaries of most college graduates do not reflect their education level until several years after graduation.

As Congress begins work on reauthorizing the HEA, we hope lawmakers seriously consider these policy reforms as ways to make the federal aid process easier on families and recent graduates.