Belated high-ed act gets a push

The long overdue Higher Education Act passed the U.S. House with revisions.

Jamie VanGeest

With a vote of 221 to 199, the U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday to renew the Higher Education Act.

This is the first time since 1998 there has been a large push from the government to renew the Higher Education Act, which is supposed to be renewed every five years, said John Engelen, director of federal relations for the University.

“The Higher Education Act is overdue and people are concerned about trying to get something passed,” said Kris Wright, the University’s financial aid director.

Some of the key provisions in the bill that passed through the House include providing year-round Pell Grants to low-income students and shortening the availability of the Pell Grant to 18 semesters.

The bill also would provide extra Pell Grant aid to high-achieving first- and second-year college students.

One of the changes made to the bill as it passed through the House included taking out a provision that would have required the U.S. Department of Education to be involved in the way public universities manage their finances.

Now universities will be able to continue to manage their finances within their respective states.

If the provision had not been taken out, it would have required the University to set up internal task forces and file reports to the U.S. Department of Education about financial dealings.

Engelen said the provision would have disrupted the relationship between the University and the Board of Regents, the Legislature and the governor.

One example Engelen gave was the recent proposal of a land-sale deal in Rosemount that would cut the estimated student-stadium fee increase for an on-campus stadium from $50 per semester to $25 per semester.

If the provision had been left as part of the Higher Education Act, the University would have had to check with the Department of Education before the deal could have gone through, he said.

“It puts the federal government in the middle of a relationship we already have,” Engelen said.

Another provision taken out that could have negatively affected the University was a proposal to change the formula for calculating financial aid, he said.

If the provision had passed, Minnesota would have received $11 million to $12 million less in financial aid, Engelen said.

“I don’t see this as a positive bill for students,” Wright said.

One issue in the Higher Education Act that Wright said was of concern is the call for an evening of statuses between universities.

“It undermines the integrity to the financial aid program” by blurring the distinction between trade schools and colleges, Wright said.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minnesota, and a member of the House Committee on Education, said in a letter to the Daily, “We don’t need to change the role the federal government plays in supporting higher education, but it should be enhanced and expanded.”

Engelen said the bill is a hit-and-miss bill for students, but he sees more misses than hits in the bill’s provisions, especially for the University.