With Republicans taking control of the U.S. Senate in January, the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act will be “starting from scratch,” according to Sen. Lamar Alexander, the likely leader of the Senate’s education committee.
The Tennessee Republican is set to become the chairman of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee when the next session convenes. In the House of Representatives, Rep. John Kline (R-MN) is expected to continue on as chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
As the debate over legislation that controls federal student aid funding begins from square one, here is a primer on Republicans’ viewpoints on 10 higher ed issues:
Alexander has said that his first priority among higher education issues is rewriting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, now at 108 questions, into a two-question form.
- Question No. 1: What is your family income?
- Question No. 2: What is your family size?
He says the form is so complicated, it’s presenting a roadblock for students who want to attend college. He has also said he believes that the Obama Administration will work together with him on that idea. Some student-aid administrators say that approach would create an information gap that would force states and higher ed institutions to create their own need-assessment forms.
2. College ratings system
The senator has also said he is opposed to having the U.S. Department of Education or Congress establish a college ratings system. He believes that it’s better to have the accrediting agencies handle the evaluations of schools, and to make sure that information is readily available to students and families for choosing a college. For advocates of the Obama Administration’s planned college ratings, this stance could be seen as taking a soft approach toward for-profit colleges, which are a main target for accountability under a ratings system.
How Republicans will proceed on higher ed issues with their new majority in Congress can also be gaged from a GOP white paper on the Higher Education Act reauthorization, and by two bills that the Republican-dominated House of Representatives passed this year.
Regarding the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, or IPEDS, the Republicans say that the information collected should better reflect nontraditional students. Included among them: those age 25 or older, and those who are seeking workforce training or new job skills.
4. College Navigator
Earlier this year, the House recently passed the Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act. If passed by the Senate and signed by President Obama, the law would no longer require the U.S. Department of Education to provide data on the College Navigator website, but to instead set up an online “dashboard” showing information on college completion rates, loan debt, and loan repayment rates.
5. Student aid
In the white paper, House Republicans say that the federal student aid and loan programs need to be simplified and streamlined so that students can easily understand their options and the federal funds are spent on students who need help the most. The Republicans propose consolidating all of the student grant and loan programs into one Pell Grant program and one Stafford loan program. On the issue of repaying student loans, the GOP proposal is to consolidate the eight repayment programs into two: One for standard repayments and one for modified repayments based on income.
6. Pell Grants
The Republicans also propose reforming the Pell Grant program, creating a “Flex Pell Grant.” Under that plan, students would be awarded a Pell Grant amount for a six-year period and then draw on that funding as needed.
7. Competency-based education
The GOP white paper calls for the U.S. Department of Education to establish a competency-based education demonstration project. The idea is that such a model would encourage colleges and universities to explore alternatives to the traditional credit-hour-based higher ed system, free from statutory and regulatory restrictions.
8. Teacher education
The Republicans propose streamlining the 82 programs under 10 federal agencies aimed at improving teacher quality, and cutting reporting requirements for school administrators that don’t provide insight about whether programs are improving teaching skills. One House bill, dubbed the Student Success Act, proposed changes that would improve partnerships between school districts and higher ed institutions, while reforming teacher preparation programs.
9. Financial counseling
Another bill recently passed by the House, the Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act, would require annual interactive financial counseling for students and parents involved in federal student loans. It would also have the Department of Education disseminate an online counseling tool that institutions could use for the annual counseling.
10. For-profit colleges
The GOP white paper expressed opposition to rules the Obama administration tried to implement in 2011 — which were blocked by a lawsuit — that focused on the recruiting practices and job placement rates of for-profit colleges. This could indicate a more favorable climate for the for-profit sector under a Republican majority. But Alexander has also indicated he would like to see colleges and universities share some of the financial responsibility for students who drop out of school or default on their student loans, a position that for-profit schools would fiercely oppose.
Would you like to see more education news like this in your inbox on a daily basis? Subscribe to our Education Dive email newsletter! You may also want to read Education Dive's look at 13 higher ed tech tools and approaches to watch in 2015.