House-approved bill addresses tuition, financial aid

By Andy Kwalwaser

A bill to reauthorize and reform the Higher Education Act cleared the House of Representatives on Feb. 7.

The College Opportunity and Affordability Act would update federal guidelines on a range of issues, from financial aid to campus safety. The bill passed by a vote of 354-58, with all 19 representatives from Illinois voting in favor.

In a statement before Congress on Feb. 7, Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Texas, sponsor of the bill, said the legislation “takes real steps to address college costs though public information, accountability and incentives at the state and institutional level to keep tuition increases low and college within reach of all students.”

Supporters said the bill will hold universities accountable for rising tuition and offer greater college access to minorities and veterans.

“The increases in transparency for college costs were among very good reasons for supporting this bill,” said Phil Bloomer, press secretary for Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Ill.

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    The bill would extend summer semester Pell grants to students who already receive financial aid for fall and spring semesters. Dan Mann, director of financial aid, said the goal is to conserve grant funds by graduating students sooner.

    The bill would require universities to report more student data to the federal government.

    “There are some concerns that the bill is asking colleges and universities to do a lot more reporting,” Mann said.

    Better data collection is necessary as more students attend multiple universities in their college careers, he said, but universities are hesitant to accept the cost of a new program.

    Opponents of the bill said it is not clear whether all its proposals are viable.

    Funding concerns led Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., to vote against the bill.

    Pence said he believes the act will “will decrease state higher education spending and increase the cost of college for students,” communications director Matt Lloyd said in an e-mail.

    The Higher Education Act of 1965 set federal guidelines for financial aid and other secondary education issues. The legislation is generally updated every five to six years, but Congress has not fully reauthorized the act since 1998.

    Other bills adjusting secondary education policy have been passed in that time but Mann said the College Opportunity and Affordability Act presents an opportunity to fully revise the legislation. A joint congressional committee is expected to review and adjust the act.

    “We really believe that this time it’s going to happen and they’ll reauthorize the programs,” Mann said. “It hasn’t kept us from doing our business but there was no finality.”