McKeon Reintroduces Bipartisan Bill to Reduce Red Tape, Improve Access to Higher Education
WASHINGTON, D.C. – 21st Century Competitiveness Subcommittee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) today introduced bipartisan legislation, identical to a bill introduced last year with strong bipartisan support, to improve access to higher education for disadvantaged students by reducing red tape in federal student aid programs. The bipartisan measure, dubbed “FED UP,” would make technical corrections to the Higher Education Act that would make it easier for Hispanic-Serving Institutions to receive federal aid, help college students avoid defaulting on their student loans, clarify that federal scholarship aid can go to low-income and minority students for law school, and improve higher education access in other ways recommended by the higher education community.
The FED UP bill introduced by McKeon today is sponsored by key legislators on both sides of the political aisle. Democrat Reps. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), David Wu (D-OR), and Ron Kind (D-WI), members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, join McKeon, Education committee chairman John Boehner (R-OH), and Reps. Tom Petri (R-WI), Mark Souder (R-IN), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Ric Keller (R-FL), Joe Wilson (R-SC), Cass Ballenger (R-NC), Tom Osborne (R-NE), and Pat Tiberi (R-OH) as original co-sponsors.
Despite the bipartisan support for the measure in Congress and strong support from the higher education community, then-House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO) opposed the identical bill on the House floor in 2002, ultimately blocking its passage. During House floor action on the measure, 27 House Democrats, including the late Rep. Patsy Mink (D-HI), who co-authored the legislation, broke with the Democratic leadership and joined Republicans in voting “yes” on the measure.
“This is a noncontroversial, bipartisan bill that will allow thousands of students the chance to attend college. It will also allow those in the higher education community the chance to do their jobs more efficiently. I hope this year we can work in a bipartisan fashion and pass this common-sense legislation through the House,” McKeon said.
“It will take us one step closer to reducing burdensome rules and allowing financial aid administrators and others in the higher education community to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. Program integrity and service to students remain top priorities for this committee and this legislation accomplishes both,” McKeon continued.
The legislation is based directly on recommendations submitted by school officials, educators, students, and others over the past year through the FED UP project (short for “Upping the Effectiveness of Our Federal Student Aid Programs”). The FED UP project used the Internet to identify and simplify burdensome regulations in the Higher Education Act that work against college students and personnel. Interested parties submitted recommendations to the FED UP website (which can be accessed at http://edworkforce.house.gov/issues/107th/education/fedup/index.htm on how to streamline burdensome regulations in higher education. The project received approximately 3,000 responses from college officials, administrators, students, and other personnel who operate America’s institutions of higher learning, laying the groundwork for the reforms introduced today.
The FED UP legislation also includes a provision, authored by Rep. McCarthy (D-NY) that would forgive the student loans of the spouses of fire, police, military and rescue personnel who were victims of the September 11, 2001, attack on our nation.
Rep. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) also authored a provision included in the FED UP legislation that eliminates the rule prohibiting institutions of higher education from offering more than 50 percent of their coursework through distance education.
House Education & the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-OH) praisedMcKeon for his work on the FED UP project.
“I want to thank Chairman McKeon for his continuing commitment to this process and his leadership on higher education in general. This is a noncontroversial, bipartisan bill that helps low-income and minority students and makes other needed changes to benefit college students and universities. The FED UP legislation will benefit thousands of students around the nation, and I hope this year Democrats can work with us in a bipartisan manner to ensure access for all students who wish to pursue a postsecondary education. As we begin the process of reauthorizing the Higher Education Act this year, it is important to put partisan politics aside and focus on improving results for our students,” said Boehner.
The FED UP legislation is just one of the many reforms congressional Republicans have supported to ensure that a quality college education is within the reach of every student who strives for it. In addition to the FED UP legislation, reforms supported by Republicans in Congress have recently resulted in the lowest federal student loan rate in history and record funding for Pell Grants, which make it possible for millions of disadvantaged Americans to attain the dream of a higher education.
In 2002, despite the war against terrorism and economic uncertainty, President Bush put forth a budget that maintains and even increases funding for America’s higher education priorities. The President requested funding to provide $55 billion in new grants, loans, and work-study to assist more than 8.4 million students. And the President’s tax relief legislation, enacted in 2001 with bipartisan support, provides more than $22.7 billion in higher education savings for working American families over the next five years.
SUMMARY: “FED UP” LEGISLATION TO REDUCE FEDERAL RED TAPE FOR AMERICA’S COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES
The FED UP legislation incorporates a long list of common-sense technical changes to the Higher Education Act requested by individuals and institutions outside the Beltway. Collectively these common-sense changes will reduce federal red tape and remove unnecessary barriers that inhibit student aid programs, helping to maximize access to higher education for students. Specifically, the FED UP legislation:
- Helps students avoid defaulting on their student loans. Removes barriers to students seeking forbearance from lenders on student loan payments by eliminating the requirement that new agreements between lenders and borrowers be in writing (however, lenders must provide notice to borrowers of the terms of any new agreement). “Forbearance” is a process by which a borrower who is having temporary difficulty meeting his or her repayment obligations can contact the lender, explain the situation and obtain some form of relief – possibly in the form of an extension, reduced monthly payments for a period of time, no payments for a short time, or other options. The FED UP change will provide relief to student borrowers to help keep them out of default and make it easier for lenders to react more quickly to students’ needs.
- Helps to ensure students receive student loan funds quickly. Extends two provisions that expired on September 30, 2002, that provide an incentive for institutions to keep their default rates low and allow students to receive loan funds faster. (Schools with default rates under 10 percent for three consecutive years may waive the 30-day delay on providing loans to first-time borrowers who are first-year students. Schools that meet this low rate also may request one-term loans in a single disbursement, rather than the required multiple disbursement.)
- Makes clear that federal scholarship aid can go to low-income and minority students for law school. Allows the U.S. Department of Education to provide scholarship aid to low-income and minority students to prepare for and attend law school, which is not currently mentioned specifically as an allowable use in the Higher Education Act.
- Forgives the student loans of the spouses of fire, police, military and rescue personnel who were victims of the September 11, 2001, attack on our nation.
- Makes clear that home-schooled students can receive federal student aid. Clarifies that home-schooled students are eligible for financial aid for higher education.
- Eliminates the rule prohibiting institutions of higher education from offering more than 50 percent of their coursework through distance education. Provides for a controlled look at increasing the availability of distance education, while protecting the integrity of the student aid programs.
- Eases aid requirements for America’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs). Allows Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) to apply for federal HSI grants without waiting two years between applications. This provision compliments President Bush’s FY2003 Budget request, which includes $89.1 million for the Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions program, an increase of $3.1 million, to expand and enhance support for postsecondary education institutions that serve large percentages of Hispanic students and help to close the gap between Hispanic students and their peers.
- Improves flow of information to students. Expands the use of technology to provide information, such as voter registration material, directly to students in a timely manner.
- Protecting students’ grant aid upon withdrawal. Clarifies parts of the “return of Title IV funds” policy to better protect students’ grant aid when he or she withdraws from a college or university.
- Corrects a drafting error in current law that mistakenly prevents students attending nonprofit foreign veterinary schools from completing their education by making them ineligible for the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program.
- Encourages higher education institutions to use technology in their reports to the federal government, including teacher quality reports.
- Allows financial aid professionals to use “professional judgment” in reevaluating a student’s financial need in cases where the student is a ward of the court.