Many Benefits for Low-Income Students in Harkin's HEA Proposal

June 25, 2014

By Carrie Warick, Director of Partnerships and Policy

Today, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee introduced his proposal for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Titled the Higher Education Affordability Act, this new version of the law overseeing higher education focuses on affordability, student debt, accountability, and transparency. The National College Access Network is encouraged by these early reauthorization discussions that align with many of our policy priorities to make college affordable and the college decision process more transparent. 

“This reauthorization proposal offers many practical solutions to help students, including simplifying the FAFSA application process by using tax data from two years prior, restoring both ability to benefit and year-round grants in the Pell Grant program, and efforts to simplify the financial aid process including standardized financial aid award letters and strengthening loan counseling,” Kim Cook, executive director of NCAN, said. “These are all issues that NCAN stressed in my November testimony to the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.”

Specifically, NCAN supports the inclusion of the following proposals in the Higher Education Act:

Affordability
  • Moving to universal use of the prior prior year tax information data to determine financial aid eligibility will allow students to apply for financial aid while they are completing college applications, rather than after.
  • A year-round Pell Grant program will increase or even accelerate graduation rates as students will be motivated to enroll full-time and stay continuously enrolled.
  • A state-federal partnership that incents states to continue their investment in education will help to deter the growth in tuition for students at public institutions.
Existing Student Debt
  • Simplifying the many income-driven loan repayment plans into one universal plan will make communicating loan repayment options easier, leading to more students taking advantage of them.
Accountability
  • Studying the best way for the federal government to hold institutions accountable will ultimately give students confidence that they are attending an institution that will give them a valuable credential or degree.
Transparency
  • Notifying students of their likely eligibility for federal student aid starting in 8th grade will let low-income students know that college is an option for them and that financial aid will be available, helping to set their college-going aspirations.
  • Using a standardized financial aid award letter will allow students to compare, without confusion over types of aid, the financial aid packages they would receive from various institutions.
  • Strengthening student loan entrance and exit counseling is an important step toward improving the financial literacy of students so that they make responsible borrowing decisions.
NCAN thanks Senator Harkin for his leadership on these important issues to increase affordability and expand transparency for students in higher education. We look forward to further discussions on these topics.

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