The Higher Education Act was originally signed into law in 1965 as part of President Johnson’s Great Society agenda of domestic programs. The HEA is the law that governs how federal financial aid is appropriated to schools and students as well as many rules on how financial aid works. The one thing that the HEA does not do is finance the financial aid programs; that process is left to appropriations bills in Congress.
The HEA is up for reauthorization again, and that means that committees are being held in order to discuss what the new version of the HEA should be. Since 1965, the HEA has been reauthorized nine times, some times taking years for each reauthorization. With more disagreements over higher education now than ever before, why does it matter that people keep a watch on the process?
Many people like to think that the HEA reauthorization isn’t as big of a deal as it used to be. This feeling mainly comes from the notion that nowadays, many rules in higher education are made outside of the act itself. Congress, Dept of Education, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, IRS, Veteran Affairs, and even the President himself will create rules that schools have to follow, and these rules may come at any time. Since these rules usually have more of an effect than HEA would seem, then most people assume that HEA isn’t a big deal.
However, you should keep in mind that there are all sorts of different people involved in the HEA process, from Congress members to members of schools and accreditation agencies. Many people involved have their own agendas that help their cause. A couple years ago, the Dept of Education enacted gainful employment rules that jeopardized the ability of colleges and universities to offer choice to students who didn’t want to go to a public school. After some legal battles, it was ruled that most of the GE rules were not based on any concrete evidence and the Dept of Ed couldn’t explain where they obtained their figures. The rules were struck down. There is a GE II in the discussions for the HEA reauthorization which has many schools on edge. In the little that’s been explained so far, the GE II is expected to be more intense than the first attempt.
It is important that schools monitor the progress of the HEA reauthorization so if there are extensive changes, then they can adapt accordingly. It is expected that this reauthorization will go on for a long time, just as most of the others have. But in the political climate that has been going on for over seven years at this point, it’s clear that several of the agendas behind most of the HEA reauthorization are geared for political agendas rather than helping the students. As more develops, we will share more results.