This Week In Washington
This week, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testified before both the House and Senate appropriations education subcommittees to discuss the policy proposals in President Trump’s fiscal year 2020 budget. In the House hearing, DeVos defended some of the financial aid polices saying “taxpayers are on the hook” for the $1.5 trillion student loan debt and “[p]olicies should not entice students into greater debt nor should they put taxpayer dollars at greater risk.” Democratic lawmakers slammed the budget request expressing grave concerns about problems with federal student loan servicers.
In the Senate hearing, several Members were worried about implementation issues plaguing the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and urged the Secretary to improve the program, rather than eliminate it. In response to a question from Senator James Lankford (R-OK), Secretary DeVos said that the “question of ‘unlimited’ Grad PLUS loans is a very real one to be dealt with,” but offered so specific proposals. Finally, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) expressed concern that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) promulgating higher education regulations while she and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) are in discussions around Higher Education Act reauthorization, would make negotiations more difficult. Secretary DeVos said that while ED will not publish any final rules before Memorial Day, it will proceed with its timeline.
ED opened investigations into eight universities connected to the recent college admissions scandal. ED wants to determine if the institutions violated any federal law or regulations related to federal student aid, and if found to have done so, the institutions could be barred from participating in federal student loan and grant programs. ED sent a letter to the universities demanding the institutions provide information and documentation to ED within 30 days.
On Thursday, Members of the House Education and Labor Committee, hosted by Representative Donna Shalala (D-FL-27), held a briefing on the college admissions scandal. At the briefing, the panel discussed the need to create policies that expand access to higher education as opposed to making new federal policies trying to address admissions cheating directly. There was also consensus that institutions should examine their admission practices in light of the scandal and ensure that they have a diverse set of enrollees. You can watch the event here.
News You Can Use
The Washington Post reports on staffing shortages at ED that are impacting federal student loan borrowers in default this tax season.
In an Inside Higher Ed op-ed, Anthony Carnevale of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce argues that President Trump's executive order, which, in part, seeks to make public the earnings data of graduates from every academic program, follows a bipartisan movement toward program-level accountability.
Inside Higher Ed reports on how the recent college admissions scandal and growing research about who is best served by higher education institutions concerns the general public, and, as a result, these institutions may face more scrutiny from Democratic politicians.
The University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education released a new report that finds many four-year colleges fail to meet federal standards regarding public disclosures of the net price students would pay if they enrolled.
In a new report supported by the Joyce Foundation, scholars studied 15 public research universities and found evidence to suggest that institutions prioritize recruiting more affluent out-of-state students and that the patterns were related to weakened state funding for higher education.
The following bill(s) have been recently introduced for consideration by the 116th Congress (2019-2020):
H.R. 1842 – Graduate Assistant Parity Act (GAP Act) [Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL-13) et al.] would allow graduate students who receive tuition reductions, aside from those who are teaching or working as research assistants, to exclude these reductions from gross income.
H.R. 1899 – Student Loan Refinancing and Recalculating Act [Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA-3) et al.] would allow student borrowers to refinance certain federal student loans at lower interest rates, lower future student loan interest rates, eliminate student loan origination fees, and allow some delayed interest accrual and deferred payments for qualifying borrowers.
S. 867 – Preventing Risky Operations from Threatening the Education and Career Trajectories of Students (PROTECT Students) Act of 2019 [Sen. Margaret Hassan (D-NH) et al.] would codify consumer protections in higher education related to the “90/10” rule (which dictates how much revenue for-profit schools can receive from federal sources), the 2014 gainful employment regulation, and the 2016 borrower defense regulation.
S. 887 – Know Before You Owe Federal Student Loan Act [Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) et al.] would require annual counseling before new loans are disbursed and require institutions to share more information with students as part of loan counseling.
S. 888 – Understanding the True Cost of College Act [Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) et al.] would require institutions of higher education to use a uniform financial aid award letter, developed by ED and relevant stakeholders.
S. 889 – Net Price Calculator Improvement Act [Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) et al.] would require schools to make net price calculators more user-friendly and accessible and authorize ED to develop a “universal calculator” to be used by students.