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Updated 10:00 AM September 8, 2008
 

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Higher Education Act reauthorized

After more than five years of work, Congress approved and the president signed into law the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2008 — a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965. The law includes provisions that will have both a positive and potentially negative impact on the academic community.

The law implements year-round Pell Grants and reauthorizes critical student aid programs, such as the Pell program, SEOG, Perkins Loans, and Federal Work Study. It expands the list of fields of study that qualify for loan forgiveness and reauthorizes graduate, international and teacher education programs.

The final language partially mitigates many of the higher education community’s concerns with earlier versions of the bill. For example:

— The law now explicitly prohibits the Secretary of Education from dictating standards for accrediting agencies to use in academic areas; and

— The final peer-to-peer (P2P) language requires schools to certify that they have a plan in place to combat illegal file sharing, but the bill language and accompanying report language provide some institutional flexibility in terms of the elements of such a plan.  

Congress had an overarching goal for this reauthorization: to reduce college costs for students. The result suggests that institutional costs will rise, however, as new federal regulations and reporting requirements are included in the law.

The broad range of new and expanded reporting and data disclosure includes information on tuition and fees, cost of attendance, textbooks, alumni activities, foreign gifts, fire safety, graduation rates, drug violations and peer-to-peer file sharing. Also, institutions in the top 5 percent with respect to increases in tuition and fees or net price will be required to file reports with the Secretary of Education explaining the causes and the steps they will take to address cost.

The law authorizes a number of new programs and studies, although it will be up to the appropriations committees to fund these measures in the coming years. A few of interest to the University include:

— Patsy T. Mink Fellowship Program, which will award fellowships to assist highly qualified individuals from groups that are underrepresented in doctoral degree programs or highest possible degree available for the purpose of enabling such individuals to enter the higher education professoriate;

— Nursing Students and Faculty grant program, which would increase capacity;

— University Sustainability Programs, which will provide grants to design and implement sustainability practices; and

— Study of all federal regulations with which colleges and universities must comply.

As with previous re-authorization bills, the next steps will be for the University to work with colleagues in the higher education community as the Department of Education begins to negotiate implementation of the myriad provisions.

For more information contact Cindy Bank at bankc@umich.edu or go to the Government Relations Web site at www.umich.edu/~govrel/erld.html.

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