Conference Committee Approves Higher Education Act
July 30, 2008
The new version of the Higher Education Act (HEA) is at last moving to the floors of the House and Senate for a vote. After seven years of waiting and debating, Congressional reauthorization of the HEA could finally happen in the next week, setting the stage for a number of changes in federal student financial aid for college students.
Among other things, the reauthorized HEA would:
- Set a ceiling on the maximum Federal Pell Grant of $9,000, and allow for students to receive Pell Grant funds year-round, instead of just during the traditional academic year. (The current maximum Pell Grant is $4,731.)
- Implement changes to make it easier for students to get information about their financial aid awards and to generally simplify the process by which students - particularly those from low-income families - can find money for college.
- Expand the Academic Competitiveness Grant program to part-time students as well as those seeking certificates and puts states in charge determining whether a high school program qualifies as a rigorous course of study.
- Make several changes in private student loans, such as: requiring lenders to provide up-front disclosures of loan rates and terms, require private loans to be certified by higher education institutions, and requiring colleges to establish Codes of Conduct to prohibit financial aid employees from receiving anything of value in exchange for advantages sought by lenders, such as placement on colleges' preferred lender lists.
- Require more disclosure of costs from both colleges and textbook publishers.
Many other changes appear in the 1,158 pages of the bill, which has been a long time coming. The Higher Education Act is supposed to be reauthorized every 5 years, but it has been 10 years since the previous version passed. The new HEA should help financial aid programs adapt to the present situation students face, and should help students better assess and plan for the costs of a college education.