SCROLL DOWN TO READ ABOUT & LINK TO THE PETITION, or use this Direct Link to PETITION (described below)
Congress is currently working on a re-authorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). This law, first enacted in 1965, is the basic federal law intended to increase accessibility to higher education.
Specifically, it authorizes numerous federal aid programs that provide support to both individuals pursuing a post-secondary education and institutions of higher education. The HEA is organized into eight titles:
- Title I, General Provisions;
- Title II, Teacher Quality Enhancement;
- Title III, Strengthening Institutions;
- Title IV, Student Assistance;
- Title V, Developing Institutions;
- Title VI, International Education Programs;
- Title VII, Graduate and Postsecondary Improvement Programs; and
- Title VIII, Additional Programs.
The HEA was last comprehensively reauthorized in 2008, though it has been amended over the past decade. It really needs to be reauthorized.
So, where are we in the reauthorization process?
On December 12, 2017, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved — along party lines — the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform Act (PROSPER Act; H.R. 4508), which would provide for the comprehensive re-authorization of the HEA.
It is now up to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) to come up with their version of this bill.
Once the Senate introduces their version, the two versions need reconciled. When a final version is approved by both House and Senate, the President will be asked to sign into law.
What are some concerns about the PROSPER Act?
Higher education advocates are speaking out against the PROSPER Act. According to the American Council on Education (ACE): “While the bill includes several valuable proposals, these are greatly outweighed by multiple provisions that would be harmful to higher education, and particularly to low- and middle-income students.” ACE has a resource page with information about the bill along with links to contact House members on provisions of interest to undergraduates, graduate students, graduates and student loan borrowers, and higher education institutions.
The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) has voiced its concerns about the bill. They are most concerned about elimination of
- the in-school interest subsidy on undergraduate loans,
- the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (SEOG), and
- Graduate PLUS loans.
The first is the subsidy that ensures interest does not accrue on undergraduate loans while one is enrolled as a graduate student (I know I benefitted from this subsidy). Over 1.6 million low-income students benefit from SEOGs, and there is no proposed substitute for this grant aid. The elimination of PLUS loans would force more students to private market lending opportunities, which often offer less favorable terms and interest rates.
There are other provisions of the PROSPER Act that are harmful to education. Three examples:
- The bill further erodes the Pell grant program by misguided investment strategy. Today a Pell Grant covers under 30 percent of a four-year public university degree while in 1980 it was 75 percent.
- It eliminates TEACH grants that help students who agree to teach at schools that serve low-income families.
- It also eliminates the 90/10 rule, which will enhance predatory behavior by for-profit schools. This rule contains a loophole that hurts veterans, but veteran groups have spoken out in favor of closing the loophole and not eliminating the rule altogether.
What can you do to voice your concerns?
- Sign this petition. The American Physical Society (APS) is coordinating a petition opposing the bill and is asking those at colleges and universities across the country to sign on. The APS will deliver the petition to Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Patty Murray of Washington. They lead the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) that is drafting its version of the bill. The petition asks them to maintain the loans the House PROSPER Act would cut, and not to increase the financial burden on graduate students through its bill. They are collecting signatures until June 1, so there is still time to add your name to the list!
- Write personal letters to key Senators. In addition to Chairman Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray, members of the HELP Committee are Senators Enzi, Burr, Isakson, Paul, Collins, Cassidy, Young, Hatch, Roberts, Murkowski, Scott, Sanders, Casey, Bennet, Baldwin, Murphy, Warren, Kaine, Hassan, Smith, and Jones. The Committee website gives links to their official websites which will, in turn, give you instructions on how to submit letters. If you live in one of their districts, write your Representative. If you do not live in one of their districts, write to the Chairman and Ranking Member.
- Write an op ed. If you would like to write an op ed, feel free to reach out to me for advice. In any case, the op eds (read next paragraph) are good models, and check in with the AMS advice page on writing op eds. If you live in a HELP members’ state, an op ed is especially meamingful.
Graduate students have been articulating their concerns in op eds around the country. In the Knoxville News Sentinel, Masters student Justin Powell writes about how the bill would hurt students; Shua Sanchez, a first-generation Ph.D. student, adds to this in his opinion piece in the Spokesman Review, explaining how it would not only hurt graduate students but also would devastate scientific advancement.
These graduate students join political commentators in their opposition to the PROSPER Act – Mildred Garcia and Peter McPherson opine in The Hill, and Georgetown policy professor John Brooks in the New York Times.
While the deadline for the petition is June 1, there is plenty of time for letter-writing and op ed writing!