House committee passes College Cost Reduction Act

The US House Education and Workforce Committee held a hearing on January 31 on Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC5)’s College Cost Reduction Act (H.R. 6951).

The US House Education and Workforce Committee held a hearing on January 31 on Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC5)’s College Cost Reduction Act (H.R. 6951). Oregon representatives Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR1) and Congresswoman Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-OR5) both sit on the committee. The committee passed the bill on a party line vote. All 30 amendments posed by Democrats failed to get any Republican votes with the exception of Rep. Chavez-DeRemer, who voted for Rep. Kathy Manning’s (D-NC6) amendment on access to sexual and reproductive health services.

The College Cost Reduction Act was introduced in early January. It includes a variety of proposals related to changing or eliminating certain student aid programs. According to Chairwoman Foxx, this bill is a response to the challenges impacting students who are pursuing their postsecondary degree, such as rising student loan debt levels and low completion rates and seeks to increase college affordability and accountability. 

The bill is broken into three main categories. The first section, Title I, is focused on transparency. This includes provisions that Builds off the College Cost Transparency and Student Protection Act to require the secretary of education to implement standardized financial aid offer forms. Sweeping changes to student aid programs, based on new concepts of “median value-added earnings”, “median cost of college”, and “median total price”.  The other focus of the first section is data collection and monitoring post-graduation outcomes. 

Title II is focused on access and affordability. This section of the bill addresses financial need, financial aid, and student loan repayment. This will change the types of grants students are eligible and for as well as makes changes to how students apply for aid and repay government loans. 

Title III is focused on accountability and student success. This would require institutions of higher education, rather than taxpayers, to be financially responsible when loans go unpaid. The institutions will be required to compensate the government annually for a portion of the unpaid interest and principal on the loans associated with their former students.

A letter about the base bill to Chair Foxx and ranking member Bobby Scott (D-VA3) from Mark Baker, President of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), outlined provisions of deepest concern to APLU about the bill, including the elimination of Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants and the elimination of PLUS Loans.

The Republican substitute amendment makes the following substantive updates to the base bill:

  • Eliminates the Pell Plus program, and instead restores Supplementary Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG).
  • Amends the FAFSA Simplification Act to exempt assets in family farms and small businesses from the student aid calculation.
  • PROMISE Grants: Subtracts from an institution’s PROMISE Grant the amount of SEOG and Federal Work Study dollars the institution receives. Removes the secondary $2 billion authorization to fund PROMISE Grants, and replaces it with authorization to spend unused funds collected through institutional payments from the previous year. Allows institutions to use their PROMISE Grant for activities that align with the needs of employers.
  • Makes changes to the postsecondary student data system based in part on feedback from APLU to include VA and DOD education benefits, reduce reporting burden to the extent practicable, and adds state-based individuals responsible for administering state-wide longitudinal data systems to the advisory panel.
  • Expands the definition of enrollment status, residency, and veterans’ benefits status for the purpose of reporting disaggregated data on the College Scorecard.
  • Exempts federal student loans in a variety of deferment and forbearances from being included in repayment balance calculations for purposes of determining risk-sharing payments.

The bill now moves to the full House, and the timeline for a vote there is unclear. It is unlikely to be taken up in the Senate, reflecting broader political disagreements over the future of federal student aid and higher education reform.

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