WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. House Committee on Education & the Workforce today approved a bill, the College Access & Opportunity Act (H.R. 609), to reform and strengthen federal student aid and higher education programs, adding new options for student loan borrowers, greater accountability to empower consumers, and refocusing the law back to its original mission by expanding college access for low- and middle-income students.
"Four decades ago, Congress established the Higher Education Act to ensure all students, regardless of financial circumstance, would have the opportunity to pursue a college education," said Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), chairman of the Education & the Workforce Committee. "The bill we approved today lives up to that legacy. We're providing meaningful reforms that will expand college access, prioritize the needs of students, and protect American taxpayers."
"This important bill brings the dream of a higher education one step closer for millions of low- and middle-income students around America," said Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-CA), chairman of the 21st Century Competitiveness Subcommittee. "This legislation strengthens and reforms the Higher Education Act by placing greater emphasis on affordability and accessibility so that more students have an opportunity to pursue a college degree. I applaud the Committee for passing the College Access and Opportunity Act today, and look forward to its consideration by the full House in the coming months."
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, Committee Republicans offered several amendments to strengthen student aid, empower consumers, and support a variety of student populations, including military personnel and veterans.
STRENGTHENING STUDENT AID
Republicans worked to strengthen the Pell Grant program through common sense reforms like eliminating unfair rules that limit Pell Grants for the neediest students attending low-cost schools, and allowing Pell Grants to be awarded on a year-round basis. The Committee adopted an amendment offered by Rep. Tom Osborne (R-NE) to expand the number and type of schools that would be able to provide year-round Pell Grants. Under the Osborne proposal, both two- and four-year institutions would be able to offer year-round Pell Grants, so long as they demonstrate successful student outcomes through their graduation rates.
The Committee also approved an amendment to offer consolidation loan borrowers new options and greater flexibility when they consolidate their loans to allow for a single monthly payment and, when needed, a longer repayment term. Education & the Workforce Committee Vice Chair Tom Petri (R-WI) offered the proposal to ensure consolidation loan borrowers have access to the successful variable rate structure used within the student loan program, as well as a new fixed-rate option that better reflects long-term federal costs while providing borrowers greater certainty in planning for future payments.
The bill includes a proposal from Reps. McKeon and Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) to increase opportunities for students to pursue math and science in higher education through scholarships, loan relief, and improved coordination of state and local efforts aimed at increasing student interest in those subject areas.
EMPOWERING CONSUMERS THROUGH TRANSPARENCY & ACCOUNTABILITY
The bill includes several key reforms aimed at increasing accountability in higher education through greater "sunshine" and transparency in college costs, accreditation, and program review. During Committee consideration, Republicans strengthened the consumer disclosure provisions in the bill by establishing a single, centralized location for such information. The bill ensures the U.S. Department of Education will redesign the College Opportunities Online (COOL) web tool to make it easier to use, and provide more meaningful data to consumers. The Department will use this information to create "College Consumer Profiles" for individual colleges and universities, and make this information available to the public in a readable, understandable, consistent, and clear format. College Consumer Profiles will contain valuable information such as the school's mission, student demographics, accreditation, student/faculty ratios, faculty qualifications, costs, student services, credit transfer policies, graduation rates, and placement rates.
The Committee also adopted an amendment offered by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) to strengthen accountability provisions and ensure quality in the TRIO college access programs. Rep. Foxx's proposal, which includes the establishment of program performance measures, will foster increased competition and allow quality TRIO programs to demonstrate and be rewarded for their success.
SUPPORTING STUDENTS' UNIQUE NEEDS
The College Access & Opportunity Act includes reforms that will allow higher education programs to better meet the needs of non-traditional student populations, including military personnel and veterans. The Committee adopted a proposal offered by Rep. Osborne to provide student loan deferment for active duty military personnel, which will allow student loan interest to be waived on subsidized loans. In addition, H.R. 609 includes numerous reforms aimed at easing access to postsecondary education for members and veterans of the Armed Forces, such as expanding opportunities for loan relief, easing the financial aid process, and ensuring veterans have access to services provided through the TRIO college access programs.
The Committee also approved an amendment offered by Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) to encourage student financial aid administrators to consider the unique circumstances of children adopted at age 13 or older, providing needed flexibility for students and families. Often, families who adopt older children may not have had the opportunity to save and plan for college.
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 .