“Results are what you expect, and consequences are what you get.” While the author of that quote is unknown, he or she might well have been looking at the proposed rewrite of the Higher Education Act. The Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity Through Education Reform or PROSPER Act has advanced from the House education committee to the full chamber. In the tumult of Tweets, elections, tax reform and resignations, this 500-page plus act has received very little public review. There are positive elements but there are also actions that could have dire consequences for higher education institutions and the students who attend them.
Some of the goals of the bill include simplifying the federal financial aid process and expanding federal work-study programs. In an effort to streamline federal financial aid, the bill proposes the elimination of both Stafford and PLUS loans, replacing them with a new Federal ONE loan. The bill also eliminates all federal grant programs except for the Pell Grants. Pell Grants would make additional grant money available to students who take 15 or more credits per semester but would have very little effect on grants to adult students who are unable to attend full-time. Repayment options would be reduced from the current nine plans to only two - a 10-year loan repayment plan and a single income-based program. Public Service Loan Forgiveness appears to have been eliminated.
The House version of the bill changes earlier accountability systems - repealing gainful employment that held career training programs accountable if their graduates had unaffordable debt, the 90/10 rule that required private for-profit colleges to produce one-tenth of their revenue from sources other than the Federal Education Department and state authorization approval of on-line schools. It also calls for increased accountability for funds issued under Titles III and V of the Higher Education Act, requiring under-resourced institutions to have a combined completion and transfer rate of at least 25 percent in order to qualify for those funds.
The bill allows accreditation agencies to conduct differentiated reviews of colleges and universities by setting up scenarios where struggling schools would receive additional oversight and successful schools would receive less. While these changes may have positive outcomes, the waiver authority given to accreditors may have the opposite effect of putting students at risk if institutions are able to set a low bar for student success metrics.
Title II, which addresses teacher preparation programs, would be eliminated and replaced with Expanding Access to In-Demand Apprenticeships. This is an industry led grant program that is meant to bring higher education and employers together but may have unforeseen outcomes, creating confusion between this program and the existing Apprenticeships as defined by the Department of Labor.
While there are some positive aspects of the House legislation, there are a larger number of provisions that could have negative consequences for students and higher education institutions. The crucial nature of this Act, and the thoughtful conversations that should be informing these decisions, needs to be brought to the forefront. CAEL will be following the PROSPER Act as it moves through the legislative process.
CAEL is a strong advocate for public policy that helps adults and other underserved populations of students. To learn more about CAEL's public policy efforts to increase access to higher education opportunities and to enhance learning outcomes, click the link below.