Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act
Honorable William F. Goodling
Committee on Education and the Workforce
House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515-6100
Dear Mr. Chairman:
I am writing to you about H.R. 6, which the Education and the Workforce Committee is going to mark up tomorrow to reauthorize the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA). I am sending identical letters to Congressmen McKeon, Kildee and Clay.
I am pleased to see that the HEA reauthorization is moving ahead, and I thank you for your leadership. The Department of Education is continuing to review the bill and will provide more extensive comments later. Your strong support for the Pell Grant and campus-based student aid programs will help to provide college access to many low-income Americans. I also share your commitment to creating a performance-based organization for the delivery of student aid and look forward to further discussions with you on this issue. The following are specifics that I believe are critical for Congress to consider in the mark-up.
Making college more affordable while protecting taxpayers. Helping to ensure access to higher education for all Americans at the lowest possible federal cost is a high priority for the Administration.
- I am pleased that the student loan interest rate change proposed in the bill recognizes the need to provide a reduced interest rate to students while retaining access to student loans. However, we continue to believe, based on the recent Treasury report, that students can be protected without taxpayers subsidizing lenders. Your proposal requires taxpayers to bear higher costs; doing that will reduce our ability to fund important education initiatives this year and in the future.
- The guaranty agency financing proposal contained in the bill does not make the system more accountable to the taxpayer. It maintains the fiction that guaranty agencies are the insurers of student loans, and it gives away Federal funds and assets to guaranty agencies.
- I am disappointed that the bill does not provide cuts in loan origination fees for student borrowers to help reduce their costs of borrowing.
- Although I am pleased that you have addressed distance education in the bill, I believe we need to do more in this area to accommodate institutions that are examining new ways to reach out to working parents, workers that need additional training, and students with disabilities. I urge you to broaden opportunities for distance learners by expanding student aid eligibility at degree-granting institutions and eliminating the difference in cost of attendance rules between distance learners and on-campus learners.
- I am also concerned that we continue the efforts that we and the Congress have taken to keep illegitimate schools from participating in student aid programs and to reduce fraud and abuse. Some provisions of the bill, such as changes to the 85/15 rule, would weaken our oversight ability. In contrast, we have proposed to expand the 85/15 rule and to extend to one-year vocational programs at proprietary institutions the requirement that 70 percent of all students graduate and 70 percent of all students find jobs, with safeguards for exceptional circumstances.
Helping more low-income Americans prepare for and go to college. Another high priority for the Administration is helping more low-income Americans prepare for and go to college.
- Since college participation rates of low-income Americans are still significantly lower than those of middle- and higher-income families, I urge you to enact the High Hopes for College initiative that is embodied in an amendment that will be offered by Congressman Chaka Fattah. This program would provide information, tutoring, mentoring, and exposure to college campuses to over 1 million needy students over 5 years through partnerships of colleges with high-poverty middle schools, as well as local businesses and community-based organizations.
- Enacting the College Awareness Information Program that will be included in Mr. Fattah's amendment would also help to encourage preparation for postsecondary education by providing financial and academic information to high school students, parents, teachers, and counselors, as well as working with adults pursuing further education.
- It is also critical that our nation recruit and prepare high quality teachers for our classrooms. I am pleased that there is great interest in making meaningful changes in the HEA teacher preparation provisions, but am disappointed that we have not jointly come together behind a strong, cohesive proposal. While we support incentives for states to strengthen their teacher certification standards, it is critical to fund teacher recruitment partnerships as well as networks among institutions of higher education that are committed to high-quality teacher preparation and to sharing best practices, in partnership with school districts in high-poverty areas.
- I am pleased with your proposal to consolidate all graduate fellowship programs into one. However, since it has always been an important federal objective to provide equal opportunity for historically underrepresented populations, I urge you to include the Administration proposal addressing this issue.
- I also urge you to consider the Administration's proposal to increase the emphasis of TRIO programs in underserved geographic areas.
Simplifying the student aid process for students, families, and schools. The draft bill does not include several of the Administration's proposals for simplification. I urge you to consider proposals that would benefit students, parents, colleges, and taxpayers, including:
- Allowing the Secretary to exempt institutions from selected statutory and regulatory requirements related to the administration of student financial aid, if they have successfully administered these programs in the past.
- Providing the performance-based organization with additional flexibility through a performance-based statute.
- Providing authority to change how current law treats a family's assets to help promote savings, fairness and simplicity. The current federal student aid formula unfairly penalizes families who are responsible and save for college, and it unnecessarily burdens students and families.
- Creating a new refund policy that is less complex for schools to administer and for students to understand without compromising accountability for Federal funds.
- Allowing use of earlier and easier student aid applications.
Again, I am pleased that the HEA reauthorization is moving ahead and look forward to continuing to work with you to help ensure that all Americans have access to a high-quality postsecondary education. The Office of Management and Budget advises that there is no objection to the submission of this report to Congress.
Richard W. Riley
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