Higher Education Act reauthorization is coming. Here are the four key issues.

Accountability, affordability, campus sexual assault, accreditation

The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP Committee) has created four working groups to focus on key parts of the legislation—giving a preview of what those core issues will be.

HELP Committee chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) has been the driving force behind this ninth reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). He acknowledges that the "nearly 1,000-page law" is a mass of "well-intentioned laws and regulations" but says it has been created "without anyone first weeding the garden." Alexander has previously said the regulations "should be an embarrassment."

As such, Alexander says he wants to "start from scratch" this time around.

The working groups will focus on:

  • Campus sexual assault and safety;
  • Affordability and financial aid;
  • Accountability; and
  • Accreditation.

The working groups are bipartisan and staff meetings will be open to any member of the HELP Committee.

Affordability and accountability were also key focus areas for Alexander's predecessor, former Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). Before retiring last fall, Harkin proposed an overhaul of HEA that would have expanded Pell Grants, simplified FAFSA, and created a database for tracking student outcomes.

A draft of the new HEA is expected by fall, and Alexander has previously stated that he is "optimistic" about Republicans and Democrats being able to work together on the law. "We have some differences—like gainful employment, a few other things—but not as many in higher education," he said in February (García Mathewson, Education Dive, 5/22; eCampusNews, 5/21).

The takeaway: The Senate committee that oversees education has created four working groups to focus on key issues of reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: campus sexual assault, affordability, accountability, and accreditation.

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