Trump administration proposes HEA reforms as Congress works toward overhaul

The Trump administration on Monday unveiled its proposal to reform the Higher Education Act (HEA), pushing Congress to enact legislation that limits student borrowing, reorients the accreditation process, and makes permanent the White House advisory board and working group for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, among other actions. According to Inside Higher Ed, the proposal represents “the most comprehensive accounting so far of the Trump administration’s higher ed agenda.”

In addition, President Trump on Thursday signed an executive order, which, among its directives, asks the Department of Education to explore policy options for having colleges and universities share risk for student loan outcomes. The administration also ordered the department to add program-level outcomes to the College Scorecard.

Limiting borrowing, increasing accountability

The administration’s HEA proposal takes aim at student loan debt, in part by advocating for new caps on Parent and Grad PLUS loans. It also calls for consolidating existing income-based loan repayment plans and offering loan forgiveness once borrowers have made 15 years of income-based payments. Other elements of the proposal include extending Pell grants to incarcerated students and those pursuing certain certificates and licenses.

Commenting on the proposal, Dr. Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, said it reflects “a bipartisan consensus…that we need transparency and accountability in higher education, and we need it at the program level.” Other experts lauded the support for HBCUs but questioned the exclusion of other minority-serving institutions. Still others said the proposed changes don’t reflect the full scope of students’ most urgent needs. “While the principles include some worthwhile proposals, we are deeply concerned that the proposal neglects major student priorities like campus safety, housing, and food insecurity, and campus climate,” Andy MacCracken, executive director of the National Campus Leadership Council, told Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

All eyes on Congress

The administration can’t enact any of these proposals without congressional action. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate education committee, has made it clear that curbing student debt is a priority. “I share the administration’s goals to make a college education worth it and to make it simpler to apply for federal student aid and pay back student loans,” Sen. Alexander said in a statement on Monday.

Sen. Alexander is working with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.)—ranking member on both the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee—“to develop bipartisan recommendations so that we can report legislation to the full Senate before summer,” he said.

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