What is the Higher Education Act and, more importantly, why should you care about it’s reauthorization?

The answers to those questions are fundamental to your membership in College Parents of America. The Higher Education Act, which originally was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, is the law that governs almost all aspects of how colleges and universities operate in this country. And as with most significant pieces of legislation, it includes “sunset” provisions, meaning that certain parts of the law expire unless they are expressly extended, or “reauthorized” by Congress and signed by the President.

Some Higher Education Act reauthorizations have had a profound impact on our society. The 1972 reauthorization, for instance, included the landmark Title IX provisions promoting gender equality in women’s sports. Today’s sports calendars on college campuses are filled with inter-scholastic women’s events that would have been unheard of, or relegated to the intramural gym, prior to this significant congressional action.

Today, we are approaching another Higher Ed reauthorization, and current and future college parents, if mobilized, can have a major impact on its direction and content. Key questions relating to school accountability, cost, and admissions, among many others, will be addressed by the relevant congressional committees, and eventually the full U.S. House and Senate, during the next 12 to 18 months.

If the congressional action is relatively swift, and reauthorization occurs within the next 12 months or so, then the Bush Administration will, of course, have a key “say-so” in the new law’s provisions. If the process stretches out even a bit, then reauthorization will get caught squarely in the middle of electoral politics, and the occupant of the White House in 2005, whether George W. Bush or one of his opponents, will have the ability to help shape the new law’s provisions.

In the coming months, you will begin to notice more and more activity in the Advocacy area of our website, as we frame the issues to be addressed in reauthorization and, in some cases, adopt College Parents of America positions or form coalitions with like-minded organizations, as we have in the case of The Coalition for Better Student Loans.

In future weekly editions of this “Members Only Column,” I will provide you an insider’s view of the process here in Washington and how we are working to promote the interests of current and future college parents. I can’t promise it will be as dramatic as NBC’s West Wing, but I can promise that, for the first time in any reauthorization since 1965, your interest and concerns will be represented at the policy table.

The more members of College Parents of America there are, the better I can represent your interests. Please tell your families, friends and neighbors to also sign up for College Parents of America membership. You know how it works, so pass the word and spread our Web site link far and wide.

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