Congress reintroduces the Higher Education Act

Congress has tried to renew the legislation for the last two years but has not come to an agreement.

Cati Vanden Breul

After failing to pass legislation last year to renew the Higher Education Act, Congress is once again working to get a new bill approved.

The act is supposed to be reauthorized every five years but has not been since 1998, said John Engelen, director of Federal Relations for the University.

Congress has attempted to pass legislation renewing the act for the last two years but has not come to agreement on what provisions to include, he said.

“It’s a large piece of legislation that takes a lot of time,” Engelen said.

“Now, they are trying it in ’05 with a whole new Congress.”

The act is the central piece of legislation that affects the allocation of student financial aid, said Clara Lovett, president of the American Association for Higher Education.

“It affects students more directly than institutions,” Lovett said.

Congress will pass something this year, she said, but it will be at least a few weeks before more is known about the bill’s contents.

As part of the legislation, Congress is attempting to simplify the student-aid process, said Nicole Barry, assistant staff director for the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance.

The committee gave 10 recommendations to Congress that could make the aid system easier for students.

“We don’t want complexity or lack of knowledge to serve as barriers for students,” Barry said.

Josh Straka, a spokesman for Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said the bill remains mostly the same as last year.

“The bill hasn’t really changed, which is surprising to some,” Straka said.

He said some of the same problems exist that prevented legislation from passing last year.

One problem Straka cited is the lack of accountability for proprietary institutions, or for-profit colleges.

The new bill would eliminate a law that requires for-profit schools to earn at least 10 percent of their revenue from sources other than federal student-aid funds, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“Despite the call for more accountability, it actually grants proprietary institutions more flexibility,” Straka said.

Engelen said the federal government’s budget deficit will play a role in determining what goes into the new legislation.

“This is the first time Congress has attempted to reauthorize the act with the federal budget as tight as it is,” Engelen said.