Higher Learning Advocates Responds to House Higher Education Act Reauthorization Bill

PROSPER Act offers a starting point for improving our system of higher learning, but falls short on quality assurance and accountability measures that would protect today’s students.


WASHINGTON, D.C. (DEC. 1, 2017) — Today, Julie Peller, executive director of Higher Learning Advocates, released an initial statement responding to the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act, a bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA) from House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC).

“We appreciate Chairwoman Foxx’s work to modernize and substantially change the Higher Education Act, now in its 52nd year. Today’s students need a system where their education matches the skills employers require, programs are flexible and designed to support student success, and all types of learning receive recognition. The legislation raises important issues, but still requires important modifications to protect today’s students and ensure successful outcomes—including completion, employment, equity, and value.”

“We look forward to continuing to work with Chairwoman Foxx and the House and Senate education committees toward a new, bipartisan HEA that makes further improvements to better serve all of today’s students, modernize accreditation, enhance data and transparency, and ensure that institutions have skin the game for student outcomes.”

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On Risk-Sharing Proposals:

“Higher Learning Advocates appreciates Chairwoman Foxx’s intention of ensuring colleges and universities have ‘skin in the game’, along with the students they serve, by proposing a new accountability measure tied to program-level repayment rates. Now, more than ever, students expect high-quality educational, financial, and employment outcomes in return for their investment. At a time when the federal government spends $150 billion annually on higher education, policymakers have an obligation to ensure students use federal financial aid at institutions that consistently produce value and outcomes.”

However, the proposal’s definition of ‘positive repayment’ as any student less than 90 days delinquent on their loans is far too lax a standard for holding institutions accountable for the outcomes they produce. Additionally, the PROSPER Act still leaves important questions unanswered, including how the measure will treat students who don’t neatly fit into any particular program of study and what role the ‘repayment improvement task force’ will have for helping low-performing institutions improve.”

On Accreditation Reform Proposals:

“Higher Learning Advocates agrees with the need to reform the nation’s system of quality assurance and accreditation policy. Current law asks accreditors to focus too little on measuring and assessing student outcomes and far too much on compliance and process. In that vein, we appreciate that the proposal increases the focus of accreditors’ standards on student learning and outcomes. However, by allowing the Secretary the authority to simply waive all or parts of the quality assurance role of accreditors, it’s possible we could see an accountability rollback just when today’s students are demanding better results.

In addition, it’s time for our quality assurance system to allow for a process to recognize and validate innovative new providers that serve a growing number of today’s students. While the PROSPER Act would help expand federal efforts to support high-quality innovative and non-institutional providers of higher learning, the bill still requires non-traditional providers to partner with established institutions and go through the existing accreditation process to be eligible to receive federal financial aid. We need a new quality assurance system that augments the current accreditation structure and enables innovative providers to demonstrate their effectiveness and scale without the onerous accreditation process that still favors well-established providers.”

On Recognizing All Forms of Learning:

“An increased focus on non-traditional educational pathways to meaningful employment, workforce Pell, and a new apprenticeship grant program are welcome. Federal policy should count all forms of high-quality postsecondary learning–whether it takes place on campus, online, on a job site, on a military deployment or on other new and emerging platforms. At the same time, research shows college graduates ultimately make up the largest share of the workforce and earn more over their lifetime.

“Therefore, it’s critical non-degree programs provide students with portable and high-quality credentials that translate to direct employment and have value toward further education should that employment option no longer be available. We hope Congress will work to balance the need for innovation while guaranteeing the high level of quality that today’s students deserve.”

On Postsecondary Data:

“Higher Learning Advocates supports bipartisan efforts to improve postsecondary data and build a student-level data network that would better inform students and their families about the potential return on investment they can expect from college. Unfortunately, Chairwoman Foxx’s legislation falls short in this area by not repealing the ban on a student unit record, a step that Republican and Democratic members in both chambers have supported. We urge her to work with bipartisan leaders in Congress to find a path toward meaningful data tools that count all of today’s students and provide consumers with the transparency and data they need.”

CONTACT: Ted Eismeier, teismeier@higherlearningadvocates.org