Higher Learning Advocates Testifies on the Department of Education’s Negotiated Rulemaking

WASHINGTON — Today, Higher Learning Advocates’ Senior Advocacy Director Tanya Ang delivered testimony regarding the Department of Education’s intent to establish negotiated rulemaking. You can read Tanya’s comments below.

Good afternoon. My name is Tanya Ang, and I am the Senior Advocacy Director at Higher Learning Advocates—a nonprofit advocacy organization working toward bipartisan federal policies to better serve today’s students.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Department’s intent to establish negotiated rulemaking. We appreciate the Department’s communicated commitment to “serve students and borrowers” by making sure the Department’s regulations “are not creating unnecessary barriers” to students.

This process could not come at a more opportune time as America is beginning to emerge from a pandemic that shut our country down for almost a year and a half. As the workforce begins to rebuild, higher education will play a key role in helping to provide the necessary skills and training many are going to need to reenter the workforce.

 Prior to the pandemic, today’s students already looked much different than traditional undergraduate students looked even 25 years ago. Many are returning students who work and have children. In fact, 64 percent of today’s students work either full-time or part-time. One quarter of students are parents, and 49 percent are financially independent. There are also 31 million adults with some college but no degree.

All these statistics are facts you most likely already know. I still mention them today because they are the very things that need to remain at the forefront of conversations surrounding topics such as strengthening Gainful Employment, Public Service Loan Forgiveness, Ability to Benefit, and any other discussion by those participating in the rulemaking process.

For example, strengthening Gainful Employment is critical to ensuring today’s students, returning to school, are enrolled in programs that will provide a strong return on investment. In addition to using the 2016 regulation as a baseline for a new regulation, we recommend the Department explore widening the set of outcome metrics to include requiring programs to meet specific employment outcomes for program completers, a required pass rate for related licensing exams, and an examination of the earnings gained from pre-enrollment to six months post-completion.

Higher education is an opportunity for low-income individuals to increase their socioeconomic mobility. It can change their lives in ways they never thought possible. Unfortunately, the current cost of education is also a significant barrier to accessing higher education for these same students. We are thankful for the Department’s plan to address issues related to affordability during the negotiated rulemaking process. 

We also encourage the Department to consider resetting student academic progress requirements (SAP) and provide this new SAP regulatory authority to institutions. Many students who initially attempt postsecondary education and violate SAP requirements face significant affordability barriers to accessing education without Federal student aid. A two year wait out period would allow the student time to better ready themselves for postsecondary education. At a time when postsecondary education is a vital avenue to gaining employment that provides for a living wage, allowing institutions to provide this waiver to students meeting these criteria is vital.

We agree with the many who have testified before me, that one area that needs substantial strengthening is Public Service Loan Forgiveness. We encourage the Department to remove any unreasonable regulatory barriers to achieving forgiveness for public service employment. PSLF is a motivating factor for today’s students who want to serve in the public sector in jobs that require post-secondary credentials but are hesitant to do so due to cost.

Higher Learning Advocates is a proponent of smart regulations that fit together to improve student outcomes. We believe any negotiated rulemaking should consider how our entire array of federal regulations do or don’t drive better student outcomes for today’s students.

In order for these conversations to be effective and achieve the goals laid out by the Department, it is imperative that statistics and information such as those I have laid out in this testimony are made part of the conversations. We, therefore, urge the Department to keep today’s students at the center of any regulatory conversations moving forward, and I thank you again for the opportunity to convey Higher Learning Advocates’ thoughts and recommendations.”