Legislative Activity

Higher Education Act Draft Legislation

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) will release a package of Higher Education Act (HEA) proposals this week. The package will likely include legislation that allows the student-unit record system to track students’ performance once they enter the workforce after graduation, as well as allows borrowers to refinance student loan debt. Additionally, Chairman Harkin will target for-profit colleges in his package. The package will likely include changing the 90-10 rule to 85-15 (meaning that 85 percent of revenue for these institutions can come from federal student aid) and limiting federal funding to be used for advertising and marketing purposes, which could also affect other institutions of higher education.

With Chairman Harkin retiring from the Senate at the end of this year and the possibility that Republicans may gain control of the Senate in November, there is no urgency by House and Senate Republicans to take substantive action on these HEA proposals, including voting on relevant bills in committee and reporting them to the floor. Therefore, Chairman Harkin’s package of proposals informs us on the position Democrats will likely take in 2015 during the reauthorization process.

Financial Aid Reform Legislation

Last week, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) released a discussion draft of the Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency (FAST) Act to reform and simplify the federal financial aid system. Specifically, the bill would reduce the Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA) to only two questions related to family size and income data from two years ago. In addition, the bill would streamline the federal grant and loan programs into one Pell Grant program and one undergraduate loan program, one graduate loan program, and one parent loan program. The bill also includes provisions to provide for year-round Pell Grants and simplifies the repayment options for student loan borrowers so they can choose from an income-based plan or the standard ten-year plan. It is expected that this bill may be incorporated as part of a future Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization bill.

The House Education and the Workforce Committee may also be considering financial aid reform legislation and other legislation related to higher education in the coming month as well. We expect that any legislation that comes out of the Committee will also be incorporated into HEA reauthorization legislation.

Workforce Investment Act Reauthorization

At the end of May, a bicameral, bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to reauthorization the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) for the first time since 1998. The Senate is currently working to put together a manager’s amendment that would incorporate amendments from a number of Senators in the hopes that these changes will allow the Senate to approve WIOA on the floor by unanimous consent. It is possible that we will see action on WOIA this week prior to the July Fourth recess but it is more likely that the Senate will consider the bill during the July work period. Once WIOA is approved by the Senate, the House is also planning to vote on it but approval of the bill will likely be dependent on the provisions included in the Senate’s manager’s package.

Upcoming Hearings

  • Monday, June 23: The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight will hold its final sexual assault roundtable titled “Campus Sexual Assault: The Administrative Process and the Criminal Justice System.”
  • Tuesday, June 24: The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing titled “Less Student Debt from the Start: What Role Should the Tax System Play?” Assistant Secretary of Treasury for Tax Policy Mark Mazur will testify at the hearing.
  • Wednesday, June 25: The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies and the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education will hold a joint hearing titled “How Data Mining Threatens Student Privacy.”
  • Wednesday, June 25: The Senate HELP Committee will consider the nomination of Robert Gordon to serve as the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development at the Department of Education.
  • Thursday, June 26: The Senate HELP Committee will hold a hearing titled “Sexual Assault on Campus: Working to Ensure Student Safety.”

Regulatory Activity

Clery Act Proposed Rule

The Department of Education has issued its proposed rule to change the Clery Act, which Congress amended last year during the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act to require colleges and universities to record and report sexual crimes. The proposed rule makes a number of changes, including:

  • expanding the definition of hate crime under the Cleary Act to recognize gender identity, ethnicity, and national origin as separate categories, as well as using the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) updated definition of rape, which is broader in scope than some states’ definitions.
  • allowing the accused and accuser involved in disciplinary proceedings to select an adviser to work with them throughout the entire process. Currently, schools can select the advisers or types of advisers that would accompany the accused and the accuser.
  • requiring schools to identify and describe the type of disciplinary proceeding they each will use. The descriptions should include how the proceedings will make decisions, the various sanctions that could be used, etc. Additionally, the proposed rule looks to make proceedings prompt, more fair and impartial.

The Department is soliciting public comments from stakeholders on and by July 21, 2014. We expect the final rule to be published in November. In the Senate, the discussion on campus safety continues with Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) hosting the third roundtable today, as described in the “Upcoming Hearings”section. After the final roundtable we expect the Senator to introduce a bill that addresses issues including underreporting of campus rape and sexual assaults, as well as improving support services for victims.

Department of Education Semiannual Regulatory Agenda

This week, we expect the Department of Education to release its proposed rule on the Secretary’s Supplemental Priorities on changing the Department’s priorities for discretionary grant programs.