Higher Education Act Reauthorization: What Colleges and Universities Need To Know

February 22, 2023 Matthew Gulliford

Higher Education Act Reauthorization: What Colleges and Universities Need To Know

The Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965 is one of the most important pieces of legislation for expanding access, financial aid, and opportunities to students of all backgrounds seeking to progress in their education. Unlike some other legislation, Congress must generally examine and reauthorize — or renew — the HEA every five years to ensure any changes align with the current standards of higher education institutions.

These amendments also account for the current political climate, technology, and anti-discrimination efforts. However, reauthorization has been essentially put on hold since the last update in 2013, largely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This article will expand on the information college and university administrators should keep in mind about HEA and its potential changes in the next few years. 

What Is the Higher Education Act of 1965?

The Higher Education Act is a federal law designed to regulate and govern colleges, universities, and the administration of higher education programs. The HEA is commonly known as the piece of legislation that increased college enrollment nationwide. The primary goal of this legislation is to expand opportunity and prevent institutions from denying any students the chance to complete their postsecondary education due to socioeconomic status or financial restrictions. 

The HEA aimed to provide financial assistance to students seeking postsecondary education and improve resources provided in higher education institutions across the nation. Congress first passed the HEA in 1965 to expand educational opportunities for students, including minority and economically disadvantaged students, by assisting them and their families with financing postsecondary education through low-interest loans.

What Is the Higher Education Act of 1965?

Since 1965, the U.S. has made exceptional progress in expanding higher education. While there are still gaps in access and degree-completion rates across the country, more people are going to college than ever. In 1965, only about 3.97 million people enrolled in public colleges. In 2020, this figure was 13.87 million, with forecasts showing that there will be over 15 million people enrolled in college by 2030.

In 2015, the 50th anniversary of the HEA, the National Education Association commended this transformative legislation for establishing federal student loans, need-based grants, and work-study opportunities, making it easier for millions of Americans to access an affordable college education.

Titles of the HEA

The HEA has undergone multiple amendments and includes new title initiatives. Here are the HEA titles and their provisions:

  • Title I: General Provisions: Establishes general outlines and definitions for HEA, including costs, funding, requirements, and provisions.
  • Title II: Teach Quality Enhancement: Authorizes grants to improve library collections and the quality of teacher education programs, including recruitment and training.
  • Title III: Strengthening Institutions: Provides support, programs, and provisions for strengthening smaller, developing institutions serving low-income and minority students.
  • Title IV: Student Assistance: Authorizes student assistance through a broad range of scholarships, work-study programs, and low-interest loans.
  • Title V: Developing Institutions: Contains provisions to improve the quality of teaching and to authorize grants for Hispanic-Serving Institutions.
  • Title VI: International Education Programs: Authorizes a range of international language studies and business programs to improve undergraduate instruction.
  • Title VII: Graduate and Postsecondary Improvement Programs: Authorizes grants for improved education, demonstration, and community service programs to support innovation in postsecondary education. 
  • Title VIII: Additional Programs: Enables several other programs to support higher education, including Mathematics and Science Scholars Program, Early Childhood Education, and Capacity for Nursing Students and Faculty.

What the HEA Provides

The HEA offers a variety of financial aid options, including Pell Grants and Stafford Loans, to support students attending secondary schools.

Pell Grants

Pell Grants

Federal Pell Grants are generally awarded to low-income undergraduate students by the U.S. Department of Education to help pay for schooling costs, such as:

  • Tuition
  • Fees
  • Room and board
  • Other educational expenses

Students who are eligible for a Pell Grant must apply by completing their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students who receive a Pell Grant generally do not have to pay it back unless they withdraw from courses or change their enrollment status.

Stafford Loans

Stafford Loans are a type of federal student loan that must be repaid. These fixed-rate loans, also called direct loans, help students with higher education costs, such as those listed above. The amount of a grant or loan awarded to a student depends on the costs of the school and whether they are a full-time student.

The government offers Stafford Loans as either subsidized loans, meaning the government pays interest until the student graduates, or as unsubsidized loans, where the student pays all of the interest while in school. Students must start paying back these loans upon graduation, six months after they leave school, or if change their enrollment status to reflect only going to school less than half-time.

Additional Funding

In addition to financial aid, the HEA provides funding and oversight for student research, program initiatives, scholarship programs, international education, and accreditation of institutions and programs. This legislation also provides federal aid for the oversight of teacher preparation programs.

HEA Reauthorization Attempts

Generally, Congress must reauthorize the HEA every five years. However, the HEA reauthorization history timeline is often extended for changes and amendments. Congress has reauthorized the HEA in the following years:

  • 1968
  • 1972
  • 1976
  • 1980
  • 1986
  • 1992
  • 1998
  • 2008

The HEA was set for formal reauthorization in 2013, but Congress extended this deadline to 2015. Since then, the HEA has not been formally reauthorized, and its programs have been operating on temporary extensions.

HEA Reauthorization Attempts

However, there have been several considerations, recommendations, and proposals for new amendments to the bill. As of 2019, the Congressional Higher Education Act reauthorization work includes many recommendations for improving opportunity and simplifying aid, such as:

  • Consolidated Appropriations Act: This act includes many higher education provisions, including changes to Federal Methodology, limitation on lifetime subsidized loan eligibility repeal, Pell Grant eligibility expansion to incarcerated students, and FAFSA simplification.
  • College Affordability Act: In 2019, members of the House Committee on Education and Labor proposed a bill, the College Affordability Act, to make amendments to student federal financial aid access. This bill establishes more accountability for institutions, opens federal aid to new eligible students, and tweaks major grant and loan forgiveness programs.
  • Student Aid Improvement Act: Proposed in 2019, this act focuses on simplifying the FAFSA and auto-qualifying applicants to determine their maximum for Pell Grants.

Current Status of the HEA

As of January 2023, Congress has essentially put the HEA on hold since 2013. Though Congress neared an agreement in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted these proceedings, which have not since resumed.

HEA programs were still allowed to operate during these deliberations, and many members of Congress have proposed changes like those stated above. However, some sources say a formal reauthorization will likely not happen for another several years, as Congress continues to disagree about the amount of involvement the government should have in higher education

The Future of Education in the U.S.

The Future of Education in the U.S.

The HEA has helped higher education institutions around the nation expand access, resources, programs, scholarships, and many other opportunities for students. This act has fundamentally changed postsecondary education and set the tone for improvements in higher education as a whole.

As the HEA continues to adapt throughout the upcoming years, colleges and universities need to have access to solutions that make accreditation, learning outcomes measurement, and institutional research and planning easier. With the right comprehensive tools in hand, educational institutions can continue to serve students for generations to come.

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