Renewal date approaches for Higher Education Act

Lacey Crisp

Time is running out for Congress to renew a bill that governs many aspects of higher education, including student financial aid and federal funding.

The Higher Education Act regulates federal funding and financial aid to students across the nation. The act is supposed to be renewed every five years, and the current bill expires Sept. 30. Higher-education officials said regulations will remain the same until a new bill is passed.

The proposed bill would increase loan limits, change loan interest rates and open federal funding to for-profit institutions.

But representatives from both sides are skeptical whether it will pass this session.

Josh Straka, a spokesman for Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said Congress has only passed one of 13 appropriation bills and does not think the Legislature will have time to pass the Higher Education Act this session.

“No one expects the bill to pass,” Straka said. “I think it sends the message that the leadership of this Congress does not see the Higher Education Act as a priority.”

He said that if the bill does not pass, McCollum and others will continue to work on improving it for the next session.

“College affordability is one of the biggest challenges facing this nation today, and we want to make sure that all who want to can attend,” Straka said.

Alexa Marrero, press secretary for the Education and Workforce Committee and Republican spokeswoman, said it is hard to predict how far the bill will go this session.

“We’re basically in the same place we have been in for the past couple of months,” Marrero said.

She said there are no hearings on the calendar for the bill, but that doesn’t mean it won’t pass.

“We are working hard and continue to try to get it passed,” Marrero said. “Even if the House passes the bill, the Senate hasn’t even begun to consider the act.”

Phil Lewenstein, director of communications for the state financial-aid services, said there are key issues that are slowing the bill’s passage.

“I think there are a number of controversial issues that are part of the discussion, and Congress doesn’t seem to be moving to resolve them,” Lewenstein said.

He said issues, such as affordability and accountability, student loans provisions and the rules affecting the for-profit sector, are tripping up the bill’s passage.

“Some of the challenging issues that the Congress aren’t coming together on are dividing the Congress and the higher-education community,” Lewenstein said.

If members of Congress do not pass the renewal by Sept. 30, the proposals could look completely different next session, because Congress might have different members after November’s elections.