Congressional Democrats are working to make debt-free college a reality for American students with their latest higher education proposal: the Aim Higher Act.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-VA, and 16 other Democrat members of the Committee on Education and the Workforce introduced the bill in July.
Scott said the bill provides both immediate and long-term relief to students and parents struggling with the cost of college and focuses more on on-time graduation. He also said the bill would work to inhibit “predatory” for-profit colleges that peddle expensive, low-quality degrees at the expense of students.
The bill would also have provisions that Scott says would modernize financial aid, a mission that other Higher Education Act reauthorization bills have included. The bill would simplify the FAFSA by decreasing the amount of questions and expediting the process for students to receive Pell Grants by only requiring them to file a FAFSA once.
Aim Higher also includes a provision to specifically allow DACA recipients to access financial aid.
The Higher Education Act — originally put into law in 1965 and meant to be reauthorized every five years — has not been reauthorized since 2008.
There have been two other attempts at reauthorization in recent years. U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-MI, introduced the College Transparency Act in May of 2017 while U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-NC introduced the PROSPER Act last December. Both of these bills have focused on the modernization of financial aid and updating the services for students when preparing for college.
All three higher education bills are still being considered in Congress.
Outlook on passing the PROSPER Act is positive, said Marty Boughton, deputy press secretary for the committee.
“Chairwoman Foxx continues to have positive and productive conversations with members about the bill,” Boughton said.
The Democrats of the committee said in a bill summary that the Aim Higher Act provides states with grant aid to encourage reform and rewards states that make tuition at state colleges and universities more affordable. This is done in the hopes that states will maintain investments in higher education and eventually make associate degrees free for every student at their public two-year colleges.
“Recognizing that the best measure of success is completing college, the bill invests in programs and services — like career counseling and campus-based child care — that will help students graduate and put them on a path to success,” the summary said.
Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, released a statement after the bill’s introduction, saying the bill would make important progress in supporting college access, affordability and completion.
"We appreciate that the legislation recognizes the primary driver of increased tuition for the vast majority of students is state disinvestment in public higher education," McPherson said.
Michelle Cooper, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, shared similar remarks in her statement after the introduction, saying the bill includes provisions that take various bold steps to improve higher education.
“With adjustments, including shifting to a first-dollar program and expanding to more four-year colleges, the proposal could better target funding toward the lowest income students who often struggle to pay non-tuition college expenses,” she said.
Cooper said the deliberation over the final bill should focus on the needs of a variety of students.
“As federal policymakers consider HEA reauthorization, we urge them to prioritize the needs of low-income students of color, and other historically underserved populations and to design legislation that truly enhances college opportunities and promotes economic mobility,” she said.
Cooper and the IHEP released a side-by-side analysis of the original bill and its update, saying the eventual bill passed must address longstanding inequities for all students.
“As lawmakers work to strengthen policies to help all students prosper, each must be guided by a commitment to equity in college access and success,” she said.
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