“The Higher Education Act is just like anything else,” she said. “It has to find its place in politics regardless of how people feel about the policy.”
Passing higher education bills is already hard enough with bipartisan support, said Jared Bass, senior counsel for education and strategy at New America.
“The PROSPER Act was one party in one chamber’s approach to reauthorizing the act,” Bass said. “I think that caused some problems in the House itself because it didn’t reflect the priorities of all the members.”
Various organizations, like the Institute for Higher Education Policy, criticized the PROSPER Act because it reduced the budget for federal aid and accountability. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos praised it for simplifying the FAFSA and other student aid.
Reauthorizing the HEA is required in order to update policies and accommodate changing values and issues within higher education. It's necessary that institutions of higher education continue to serve students well, Robinson said.
U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, acknowledged that the 1965 legislation is in need of an update when she introduced the PROSPER Act.
“With six million unfilled jobs and over a trillion dollars in student debt, simply reauthorizing the Higher Education Act will help no one,” she said in a statement. “We need a higher education system that is designed to meet the needs of today’s students and has the flexibility to innovate for tomorrow’s workforce opportunities.”
Without a reauthorization, universities and students are faced with uncertainty, Robinson said. And it’s just going to get harder to address current issues — like FAFSA simplification and new technologies in education — the longer Congress waits.
Robinson said the different sides are going to have to come together if Congress is going to reach an agreement.
Because it’s deep into an election year, Bass doesn’t expect to see any higher education bills coming out soon. Approaching the act with a bipartisan attitude will require a change in leadership, he said.
Bass said reauthorizing the act is important to make sure higher education remains accessible for all students and prepares them to have good jobs.
“Higher Education Act reauthorization is a thing to get right," he said. "Not a thing to get done."