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Scott Seeks 'Comprehensive' Reform for Higher Education Act

The chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee is willing to work with his counterparts in the Senate, but only if they agree to make "comprehensive" changes to the Higher Education Act a priority.

As the newly elected chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) is willing to work across the aisle with Senate and House Republicans to authorize the Higher Education Act. But he is looking to make significant changes to the law that was last modified more than 10 years ago.

"We don't do a narrow compromise just to get something passed," Scott said Feb. 7 at an Insider Higher Ed event. "The opportunity to reauthorize the Higher Education Act comes only once a decade and we can't waste this opportunity by passing a bill that only changes things on the margins."

Scott's speech was preceded by remarks from Senator Lamar Alexander, who serves as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Alexander's speech was similar to his remarks made at the American Enterprise Institute on Feb. 4.

While Scott agreed with Alexander on the need to simplify the Free Application for Student Aid, he also laid out several priorities in legislation that he plans to introduce. Scott wants to create "comprehensive" changes to the federal student aid and loans programs through "long overdue structural reforms." The democratic chairman is also looking to reverse the disinvestment at the state level of funding to public universities.

"For the last decade, state funding for four-year institutions decreased by about 24 percent and community colleges increased by 14 percent," Scott said. "That has been particularly harmful to low-income students and their families who are now expected to begin dedicating a larger share of their income toward paying for education and also requiring much higher loan balances."

Scott's proposal would incentivize state governments to put more money into state colleges in order to reduce tuition costs. It would strengthen the role of federal government accreditors and state authorizers to ensure that taxpayer dollars can only be accessed by institutions and programs that "serve students well."

"HEA reauthorization must shift more responsibility to accrediting agencies and increase, not eliminate, state and federal oversight," Scott said. "We have to reorient our focus to [degree] completion and student success while recognizing that not every degree can be quickly monetized."

Scott also cautioned against deregulation of colleges and universities for "deregulation's sake." He encouraged both Republicans and Democrats to protect taxpayers and students from "low-quality schools" by restricting their access to federal student aid and changing the veteran loophole for aid from 90/10 to 85/15. He also stated that any comprehensive HEA plan must include provisions to improve campus safety and improve funding mechanisms for community colleges, historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions.

"Students and families deserve a comprehensive overhaul of the Higher Education Act that tackles complex and evolving challenges," said Scott.

In his first few weeks as chairman, Scott has made funding physical and digital infrastructure in K-12 schools his top priority. On Jan. 30, Scott introduced the Rebuild America's Schools Act to invest $100 billion in schools across the country through two programs designed to improve the health and safety of school facilities. The House Education and Workforce Committee is scheduled to have its first hearing on how underfunding public education is impacting students on Feb. 12.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe covering education policy and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

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