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Higher Education Overhaul Takes Next Steps in Congress

Last week, the House education committee finalized their plan to overhaul the Higher Education Act. After a final vote that fell mostly across party lines, the proposal will now advance to the House for a vote.

Known as the PROSPER Act, this legislation aims to overhaul existing law by streamlining student financial aid as well as cutting several Obama-era provisions.

According to Republicans, this is a much needed change that will lead to a streamlined, simplified, and more effective higher education system. But some Democrats argued that the legislative process has been rushed and that Republicans have approached this process in a partisan manner.

The bill would simplify the federal aid application while also cutting down on the number of available loan and funding programs, leaving just one loan program, one work-study program, and one grant program. The bill provides only two student loan repayment plans – the ten-year standard and an income-driven plan. The bill also would allow students to use federal aid for job training programs, short-term certifications, and apprenticeships.

However, it would also get rid of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which offers loan forgiveness after ten years to borrowers who work in public service jobs. It would also eliminate TEACH grants, which give grants to students who agree to teach certain subjects to schools in high-need areas for a set amount of time. Those who already have a TEACH grant or are enrolled in PSLF would be grandfathered in, retaining their benefits.

The committee did consider more than 60 amendments, most of which were put forth by Democrats and were rejected across party-line votes. One thing Democrats sought to do was to reinstate Obama-era regulations on for-profit colleges, a move that was resoundingly rejected by Republicans.

Democrats and higher education advocacy groups continue to voice complaints about the speed at which the 542-page bill moved through the committee. Craig Lindwarm, who is a director at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, argued that there hasn’t been enough time to examine if adequate safeguards have been put in place.

At any rate, the bill is far from done. It needs to break through plenty more “red tape” if it will be signed into law. The bill now moves to the House for a vote and it is still unclear whether the bill will garner the support it needs to make it through the House. For instance, some of the members of the House could have constituents who benefit from some of the provisions eliminated by the bill.