HEA Reauthorization, Ed Department Initiatives Highlights Round Out NLS

February 12, 2020

During the second day of the Community College National Legislative Summit, the two leaders of a key Senate committee expressed optimism that critical components of the Higher Education Act would be reauthorized in the coming months. 

"That doesn't mean we're going to take that whole big act and reauthorize everything," Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said during the Community College Congressional Forum held on Capitol Hill Tuesday afternoon. "You could take the position that we're not going to do anything until we do everything. If you take that position, you'll be here about 100 years... I think we can make some progress."

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the ranking Democratic member of the HELP Committee, stressed key areas of focus in reauthorization, including affordability, accountability, expanding access to higher education, and improving campus safety while protecting civil rights.

"There are many ways the current system is not working for students or families or our economy today," Murray said. "Too many students tell me they cannot afford the cost of college, especially the ever-increasing cost of living expenses that go along with that. Too many students have been left out of higher education altogether, and too many students don't feel safe on campus today. We've got to fix that."

Both senators touted bipartisan agreement in a wide range of areas important to community colleges, including financial aid and student loan reform, accountability, and including short-term programs in the Pell Grant Program. Alexander predicted movement on key components of the plan in the coming months.

"This is your chance to get it done," Alexander said. "If you don't get it done this year, you're probably another 10 years before you get the job done properly, so please help us take advantage of this."

Also speaking at the Forum, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) reiterated bipartisan support for key components of HEA reauthorization, including strengthening the Pell Grant program. He discussed proposals that would restore federal financial aid for students convicted of drug offenses and strengthen reverse transfer programs. 

Casey also stressed the importance of community college leaders advocating for their institutions on Capitol Hill. "Your presence here matters," he said. "It has meaning and value to us. We learn a lot from you... without your voice, your passion, and expertise, we would be a lot less able to carry the arguments."

Earlier Tuesday, a U.S. Department of Education official stressed the value of "mission-driven accountability," touting the department's rulemaking changes to provide greater flexibility for accreditors to evaluate noncredit programs and eliminate the distinction between regional and national accreditors.

Diane Auer Jones, the department's principal deputy under secretary, also highlighted changes in reporting requirements, a pilot work-study program that could qualify more work-based learning experiences, and changes in K-12 programs that could benefit dual-enrollment programs at community colleges.

"We feel like for far too long, the [department] was advancing a one-size-fits-all solution without regard to what kinds of students [colleges] admit or their goals," Jones said. 

Last night, the National Education Service Award was presented to Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.).

#NLS2020 was trending on Twitter as participants live-tweeted from the event. Sarah Wood from Diverse: Issues in Higher Education reported from the Summit yesterday.

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) gave the closing keynote address this morning, speaking in support of the College Affordability Act, with an emphasis on food and housing insecurity interventions. He also encouraged assertive efforts to ensure that U.S. veterans are not exploited by predatory lenders and institutions. Takano serves as chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and a member of the Education and Labor Committee.
For more information from the 2020 Community College National Legislative Summit, follow ACCT @CCTrustees on Twitter. 

Registration is now open for the 2020 ACCT Leadership Congress in Chicago! We look forward to seeing you there this September.