On Thursday, April 22, 2004, I joined other leaders in the higher education community for an invitation-only briefing on Capitol Hill, during which the leadership of the House Education and Workforce Committee outlined their plan to soon drop a bill that will reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

Full committee chairman John Boehner (R-Ohio) and higher-ed subcommittee chairman Howard S. “Buck” McKeon (R-California) conducted the long-awaited briefing, supported by several members of their staff.

As I have written in previous columns, the Higher Education Act, originally passed in 1965 and subsequently reauthorized every five to six years, is due again for reauthorization. This process initially involves the members of the relevant committees in both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate and then, if they report a bill out of their committees, the legislation is placed on the calendar for consideration by the full 435-member House and the 100-member Senate.

The important action, however, occurs at the committee level, so yesterday’s preview of the planned House legislation was of keen interest. The briefing was attended by the presidents of the American Council on Education, the American Association of Universities, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, the American Association of Community Colleges and about a dozen other interested organizations.

For the first time ever, College Parents of America was included in such a briefing, an indication of our growing status in the eyes of decision-makers in Washington.

Messrs. Boehner and McKeon opened the meeting by commenting that the original purpose of the Higher Education Act of 1965 was to make college accessible to low- and moderate-income families. In calling their reauthorization bill the “College Access and Opportunity Act of 2004,” these 21 st-century lawmakers said that they were reaffirming the original purpose of the 1960s legislation.

Among the many provisions in the Boehner-McKeon legislation include:

  • An extra $1000 in Pell Grant assistance to be made available to those needy students who successfully complete a rigorous high-school curriculum under what is known as the “State Scholars Program;”
  • The creation of year-round eligibility for Pell Grants, which previously were available during the traditional fall-to-spring academic year;
  • A strengthening of the TRIO and GEAR-UP programs, which are intended to help increase college attendance among students from economically deprived communities;
  • A phased reduction in the origination fee for federal student loans, down from the current 3 percent to 1 percent by the time the next reauthorization is due;
  • A raising of loan limits for freshman and sophomore borrowers to $3500 for the first year of school and $4500 for the second year, up from current levels of $2625 and $3500, respectively;
  • The creation of a variable-rate structure for all federal loans, whether they be the original loan or a consolidation loan;
  • On consolidation loans, the elimination of the single-holder rule, which currently requires a borrower with loans from only one lender, and who desires to consolidate his or her loans, to do so only with that lender;
  • A requirement that all providers of student loans report their customer data to all credit bureaus;
  • The creation of a College Consumer Profile, which will allow families to easily track the “cost performance” of a school over a several-year period;
  • A greater openness on “transfer of credit” policies so that a student and his or her family will have a greater degree of certainty that classes taken, for example, at a particular community college will be accepted as transferable credits by the four-year school where he or she may aspire to attend. In connection with this provision, Boehner and McKeon hope to make “more public” the who-what-when-where impact of various accrediting agencies, which tend to operate on a regional basis.

There will be many other additional provisions in the bill when it is introduced, which Rep. Boehner said would be “soon.” No paper was distributed at this briefing, so the only way for me to capture information for passage to you was through what I was able to write down in my notebook.

In next week’s column, I will follow up on this “information dump,” and provide you with some analysis of the proposed bill and a political assessment of its chances for passage. In the meantime, if there is something that I have shared above that is of particular interest to you, or if something is missing and you want to know why, then please send us an e-mail message at info@collegeparents.org or call us at 888-761-6702.