Outlook: Higher Education Reauthorization

The 116th Congress will pick up where the 115th left off after failing to find a compromise on student aid, federal loans, and data sharing in higher education legislation.

Negotiations between Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and ranking member, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) on a higher education overhaul stalled last spring. A House bill (H.R. 4508) was approved by the House Committee on Education and Labor but did not receive enough support among Republicans to move to the floor.

Incoming House Education and Labor Chair Bobby Scott (D-VA) also plans to make progress on higher education legislation. He and other committee members introduced legislation in July 2018 that would have expanded federal student aid and assisted states in providing tuition-free, two-year public college. The Aim Higher Act (H.R. 6543) also proposed offering students the option of debt-free in-state college. Scott has also signaled his intention to craft a bipartisan bill in the early days of the new Congress.

Policy Decisions

Democratic & Republican legislators do agree on some issues, such as making it easier for students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Lawmakers will try to reach an agreement over how the government collects data on students. Senators introduced two bipartisan bills in the 115th Congress that would allow collecting data at the student level, rather than the institution level, which could give students more information on potential schools such as graduation and employment rates and earnings. Alexander and Foxx both oppose student-level data.

Department of Education

Democratic legislators on the House Education and Labor Committee are also planning to begin oversight of the Education Department. Scott has said that his oversight priorities are the Department’s implementation of a K-12 law ((Public Law 114-95)  the rewriting of regulation dealing with forgiving student loans in cases where colleges misled or defrauded students. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has spent a significant portion of her tenure rolling back a number of Obama administration regulations, decisions, and guidance including student loan forgiveness.