Nancy Pelosi, House Democrats Unveil  College Affordability Act

Today, the House Education and Labor Committee passed a bill to revamp American higher education—the College Affordability Act. After three days of markup with over 40 proposed amendments to the bill, it passed out of committee on partisan lines—28 to 22. The bill was originally introduced two weeks ago at a press conference with Speaker Pelosi and Rep. Bobby Scott, the chairman of the committee, along with other members. The College Affordability Act is similar in many ways to the Aim Higher Act, the bill Democrats released while in the minority.

The College Affordability Act, as introduced originally, included several provisions to improve higher education affordability, as well as some changes to improve accountability. The affordability provisions include tuition-free community college and a $500 increase in the Pell Grant—the federal government’s primary financial aid program for low- and moderate-income students. The bill also improved requirements around accreditation, for-profit accountability, and student loan default accountability.

At the beginning of markup, Democrats introduced an amendment that made a few tweaks to the bill that was originally introduced. The most notable was a change in the increase in the Pell Grant from an additional $500 to $625, making the maximum grant $6,820 for the 2021 fiscal year. The changes also included subsidized loans for graduate students (except for those at for-profit institutions) and making adjunct faculty eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

During these three days, the committee considered many amendments from Democrats and Republicans. The debate was heated at times and included amendments and conversations about abortion, immigration, and free speech. Those amendments were rejected as were others including ones to limit student workers unionizing, allowing for-profit schools to access short-term Pell, reducing the regulation of for-profit schools.

·        Requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study how states remove occupational licensure when students default on their loans.

·        Requires another GAO report on equity gaps at colleges.

·        Requires institutions to disclose to students when their expenditures on non-instructional expenses increases more than five percent in one year.

The bill will now go to the full House for consideration. Speaker Pelosi’s support of the bill at the press conference shows this is a priority for her caucus, though it is hard to know what the chances are in the Senate given Senator Alexander’s approach. The last time the Higher Education Act was reauthorized was 2008 and, while it is unclear what the outcome will be, there is clearly interest in making some sort of change to higher education.


By Loknath

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