WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. House Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness today approved a bill to reform and strengthen federal student aid and higher education programs, adding stronger protections for students on college campuses and refocusing the law back to its original mission by expanding college access for low- and middle-income students. The full Education & the Workforce Committee is expected to consider the bill, the College Access & Opportunity Act (H.R. 609), next week.
"The College Access & Opportunity Act is simple in its purpose: we want to restore the focus of the Higher Education Act to students," said Subcommittee Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-CA). "We believe federal resources must be used more efficiently and effectively to expand college access and ensure every American student who strives for a college education has the opportunity to reach that goal."
"While we've still got a lot of work to accomplish, today we've taken an important first step in expanding college access for low- and middle-income students," said Education & the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-OH). "The Subcommittee debate has strengthened the underlying bill, and Chairman McKeon deserves credit for his leadership in moving this bill forward."
The College Access & Opportunity Act contains several key reforms to strengthen America's higher education system by expanding college access and restoring the focus of federal aid programs to better serve students. H.R. 609 would expand college access for millions of low- and middle-income students by:
· Strengthening Pell Grants, student aid, student access, and minority serving institutions;
· Reducing loan costs, fees, and red tape for students and graduates;
· Removing barriers for non-traditional students; and
· Empowering consumers through "sunshine" and transparency in college costs and accreditation.
During consideration of the bill, Subcommittee Republicans offered several amendments to protect students' rights, strengthen financial aid, and enhance teacher development.
PROTECTING STUDENTS' RIGHTS
The Subcommittee-passed bill included a consensus agreement reached in June with members of the higher education community on stronger protections for students' speech and association rights. These protections were built on the framework of an Academic Bill of Rights to ensure students are not discriminated against on college campuses for their individual viewpoints or political perspectives. The agreement was forged between House Republican leaders, members of the higher education community, and advocates for student speech rights led by David Horowitz, and included in H.R. 609 to ensure stronger protections for students on college campuses.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) offered an amendment to prohibit the creation of a federal database, or "unit record" system, which could collect private, personally identifiable information on individual college students. The Subcommittee approved the amendment by voice vote, ensuring greater protections for individual students' privacy rights.
STRENGTHENING & PROTECTING STUDENTS AND STUDENT AID
Republicans offered a number of amendments to strengthen the Pell Grant program, including three provisions offered by Rep. Ric Keller (R-FL) to: address the needs of Pell Grant recipients who withdraw from school due to a natural disaster; clarify that sex offenders in involuntarily confinement facilities cannot qualify for Pell Grants; and increase the authorized Pell Grant maximum award to $6,000 to demonstrate support for the program without setting unfair and unrealistic expectations for students. The Subcommittee also approved a common sense amendment offered by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) to encourage students to make consistent progress toward college completion by limiting the amount of time for which students can qualify for Pell Grant aid.
The Subcommittee also approved Republican amendments that would protect students by ensuring financial aid isn't jeopardized by the 90/10 rule, and provide equal recognition for institutions of higher education. An amendment offered by Rep. Luis Fortuño (R-PR) would ensure all eligible institutions of higher education receive fair recognition under the Higher Education Act, while making certain funds traditionally awarded to community colleges and minority serving institutions are preserved for these institutions.
Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) offered, and the Subcommittee adopted, an amendment that would protect student financial aid by including the 90/10 rule among other program participation requirements for all institutions of higher education. This change will protect disadvantaged students from the possibility of immediately losing federal financial aid.
The Subcommittee also approved an amendment offered by Rep. Jon Porter (R-NV) to provide student loan relief to professions with identified national need. Rep. Porter's amendment would allow up to $5,000 in loan relief to individuals working in areas such as nursing and early childhood educators, where shortages of qualified professionals exist. This initiative complements student loan forgiveness already available under the Higher Education Act to highly qualified teachers who teach in disadvantaged schools.
ENHANCING TEACHER DEVELOPMENT
The Subcommittee adopted an amendment offered by Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) to the teacher development programs under Title II of the Higher Education Act to authorize $100 million for the establishment of a Teacher Incentive Fund. The Teacher Incentive Fund, modeled on a proposal offered by President Bush in 2004, would help states and local school districts develop pay-for-performance systems to provide recognition pay to teachers and principals who demonstrate success in improving student academic achievement.
For more information on Republican efforts to expand college access for low- and middle-income students, visit the Education & the Workforce Committee website at http://edworkforce.house.gov/issues/109th/education/hea/hea.htm .