News: Federal Policy & Advocacy

White House Unveils Higher Ed Priorities, Executive Order

Friday, March 22, 2019  
Posted by: Jack Porter, Advocacy Associate
Share |

Earlier this week, the White House published a document that outlines its priorities for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), marking the first time President Trump has publicly put forth any sort of HEA agenda.

Although the mostly vague framework includes some sentiment that echoes that of NCAN’s federal policy priorities, specific policy prescriptions absent from the document will ultimately determine the impact on students served by NCAN members. In fact, funding levels in the president’s fiscal year 2020 (FY20) budget request stand in stark contrast with NCAN’s long-term vision for the Pell Grant and Federal Work-Study (FWS) programs.

Student Aid Simplification

The Trump HEA outline does not include an explicit mention of FAFSA simplification, though it does give a nod to increased data-sharing agreements between the departments of Treasury and Education – an idea similar to the one recommended in NCAN’s November 2018 verification brief. Also included is a proposal to create a single Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plan – as opposed to the five options available now – and to provide loan forgiveness to undergraduate borrowers in the IDR plan after 180 monthly payments. This is also spelled out in the FY20 request.

Federal Work-Study

NCAN has proposed increasing appropriations for the FWS program as well as reforming its funding formula in order to reach more students from low-income backgrounds. And while the White House outline does mention the prioritization of supporting low-income students, all three of the president’s budget requests have called for cutting the FWS program nearly in half. 

Pell Grants

Unsurprisingly, the White House reiterated its preference to extend Pell eligibility to programs that take less than one semester to complete and are currently ineligible for federal aid. Eligibility for these so-called “short-term programs” would be granted to those deemed as “high-quality,” though the Trump framework does not lay out criteria for meeting this mark. The short-term Pell concept surfaced in FY18, FY19, FY20, and in both parties’ HEA reauthorization bills in the U.S. House of Representatives last year. The White House outline makes no mention of any long-term increased investment in the maximum Pell Grant award, such as the one NCAN has recommended to Congress.

Other Notable Items for NCAN Members

There are vague mentions of enhanced loan counseling as well as borrowing limits for Parent and Grad PLUS loans, but there is no metric or figure tied to either proposal. Both of these ideas are pitched as a means of encouraging more responsible borrowing.

Higher Education Executive Order 

The rollout of the administration’s HEA priorities came on the heels of higher education hearings in the House and Senate, and a few days prior to the White House issuing an executive order (EO). Although the free speech directive included in the EO will likely garner the most attention, there are a couple of items aimed at enhancing institutional transparency and accountability that are more pertinent to NCAN members and students.

Through this EO, the White House is requiring the Department of Education (ED) to, among other things:

  • Make information about total debt load as well as repayment options and amounts available on the myStudentAid mobile app by Jan. 1, 2020.
  • Publish median debt levels, default rates, and estimated median earnings for federal aid recipients by program of study on the College Scorecard. 

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will be testifying before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies next week on the FY20 budget request for ED. Meanwhile, the House Education and Labor Committee will continue with its series of bipartisan hearings on HEA topics in the coming months as Congress pushes forward with its latest attempt to reauthorize HEA.

NCAN will keep advocating for and engaging its members and students as these policy discussions continue to take shape in Washington. 

(Photo by David Everett Strickler on Unsplash)