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House committee passes Higher Education Act

Sign in front of LBJ Dept of Ed building in Washington, DCAs anticipated in a District Dispatch post earlier this fall, the House Education and Workforce Committee this week approved (or marked up) legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act on a party line 23-17 vote. This legislation, among other things, threatens a popular student loan program for LIS program graduates.

The Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity Through Education (PROSPER) Act, introduced earlier this month by Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC), is an authorization bill (not a funding measure) that sets policies for federal student financial aid programs. The PROSPER Act would largely keep the overall structure of the original 1965 Higher Education Act and authorize the Act through 2024 (the most recent authorization expired in 2013). The legislation streamlines student loan programs, expands job training opportunities, among other changes.

The PROSPER Act also threatens the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program, which supports graduates working the public sector, often in lower-paying jobs. PSLF allows graduates to erase debt after 10 years of working in public service careers and meeting loan payments. Librarians are among those who currently qualify for benefits under the program. (Under the PROSPER Act, current participants currently in the program would not be impacted by the proposed elimination.) In addition, demand in rural communities for PSLF students remains high. ALA is alarmed by the proposed elimination of PSLF program and has worked throughout the fall to advocate for the retention of the program.

Also threatened by the PROSPER Act are programs for teacher prep under Title II of the Act.

In a 14-hour-long marathon markup of the PROSPER Act, the Committee more than 60 amendments, including one introduced by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT) to support PSLF that narrowly failed on a 20-19 vote.

The PROSPER Act now heads to the full House of Representatives for consideration. The timing is uncertain as Congress faces a number of budget and tax priorities that must be addressed. In addition, some members from rural communities have raised concern with key provisions such as the elimination of PSLF, which is popular for rural communities seeking to attract college graduates. We expect the PROSPER Act to come up in the House early next year.

The Senate has not announced a timetable for its Higher Education Act legislation, but Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee has expressed optimism that he can craft a bill with the committee’s ranking Member, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). PSLF has generally received stronger support in the Senate, and ALA will continue to work with members of Congress to defend PSLF in the coming months.

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Kevin Maher is the deputy director of Government Relations. His portfolio includes federal appropriations and telecommunications issues. Previously, Kevin worked in congressional affairs for the American Hotel & Lodging Association and the U.S. Travel Association.

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