Successful legislation amalgamates hundreds of ideas; whether punctuation should be a comma or a semicolon and whether the work is even necessary. Final products never resemble stakeholders’ initial thoughts. And, when debates are laced with partisanship, results are further afield assuming they develop at all. Amazingly, amidst typical vitriol, federal policy makers tackling the Higher Education Act’s reauthorization are walking a bipartisan path.
So far, the House of Representatives and Senate introduced a combined six bills addressing higher education issues. The Senate’s only bill, the Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency (FAST) Act of 2015, generated six committee hearings on topics ranging from campus safety to perhaps the most contentious, significantly reducing the lengthy Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) from a broad questionnaire to a two question post card.
The Senate bill also, among several other changes to current law, makes students automatically eligible for a Pell Grant if they or their families received benefits under a means-tested federal benefit program at some time during the previous 24 months.
In the spirit of inclusion and cooperation, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman, Senator Lamar Alexander, stated the House bills and additional/growing ideas and concerns, “will be looked at for possible inclusion in a new bill.” Moreso, a bipartisan task force led by Republican Senators Lamar Alexander and Richard Burr and Democratic Senators Barbara Mikulski and Michael Bennett is jointly reviewing the Department of Education’s college and university regulations and reporting requirements. The task force’s results may also be considered for a revised bipartisan Senate bill – this year or in the first part of the 115th Congress.
There is a lot to consider. The nation’s higher education system must adjust to new economic and social demands. Campuses must be safe. College must be affordable. Universities must be accountable. Synchronizing the ideas to accomplish it all is not going to be easy, but at least for this effort, we’re not saddled with partisan bickering or delays and the long road to a reauthorized and refreshed law will be more productive as a result.
If you would like to know more about the Higher Education Act reauthorization and even have a voice in the debate, e-mail Aaron Grau, Cohen & Grigsby’s Public Affairs Practice’s Federal Affairs Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.