This summary is the first installment in a series examining the five bipartisan bills in greater detail.
As much of the attention in Washington this week was concentrated on the sit-in by House Democrats over gun control legislation, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on June 22 approved by voice vote five bipartisan bills aimed at assisting students in choosing the right college or university, making the financial aid process fairer and more transparent, and supporting higher education institutions that serve minority students.
H.R. 5528, the Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act, intends to implement reforms to the federal student aid process by ensuring that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) continues to be available to future students, simplifying the FAFSA for student aid applicants, and providing more time for student aid administrators to verify the income of those applying for financial aid. H.R. 5528 was introduced by Reps. Joe Heck (R-NV), Phil Roe (R-TN), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Mark Pocan (D-WI).
H.R. 5529, the Accessing Higher Education Opportunities Act, aims to help students who attend Hispanic-Serving Institutions to access graduate-level and doctoral degree programs in health care. The bill also offers students attending secondary school the opportunity to earn college credits in dual enrollment programs. H.R. 5529 was introduced by Reps. Joe Heck (R-NV), Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX), and Raul Ruiz (D-CA).
H.R. 5530, the HBCU Capital Financing Improvement Act, is designed to assist Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in understanding and accessing the resources available to them through the HBCU Capital Financing Program, which offers low-cost capital to finance improvements to campus infrastructure. H.R. 5530 was introduced by Reps. Alma Adams (D-NC) and Bradley Byrne (R-AL).
H.R. 3178, the Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act, intends to ensure that students have access to straightforward and useful college data when choosing a college or university, to improve coordination among federal agencies on higher education data, and to make higher education data beneficial not only to traditional first-time students but also to non-traditional students who are often older part-time students with families and jobs. H.R. 3178 was introduced by Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Luke Messer (R-IN), and Gregorio Sablan (D-MP).
H.R. 3179, the Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act, promotes financial literacy through enhanced counseling for federal financial aid recipients. The bill improves upon counseling offered to student loan recipients, and requires annual counseling for students receiving Pell Grants. The bill also intends to help higher education institutions by establishing a consumer-tested, online counseling tool that would ease the burden in providing financial counseling to students. H.R. 3179 was introduced by Reps. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR).
The legislative calendar is increasingly tight for the remainder of 2016. These five bills could be taken up by the full House in this Congress, but it is unlikely that they will be considered by the Senate. If they do not become law this year, they will help to frame the discussion for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) in the upcoming 115th Congress.