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Murray Wants Higher Ed Act Reauthorization to Tackle Affordability

The ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee wants the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act to make college more affordable for low-income students.

As the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee works to craft a bipartisan solution to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) laid out her priorities for the forthcoming legislation in a Feb. 28 speech at the Center for American Progress. Murray is working across the aisle with Republication Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander to craft the HEA authorization that will address the equity gaps in gaining a college degree.

"Students across the country are working hard and holding up their end of the bargain — so we need to write a law that strengthens federal investments in our students, supports and incentivizes states to reinvest in higher education, and ensures students have access to an education of value and graduate with high-quality certificates and degrees that help them succeed in today's workforce and society," said Murray.

In order to tackle student debt, Murray is looking to include a federal-state partnership model to promote new investments in education. She is also looking for the legislation to include a path to loan forgiveness for students "who have been cheated by their schools," public servants and those who can't work due to a disability.

When it comes to accountability, Murray addressed the problems that some students face due to accreditation issues. "One of the root causes of unaffordable debt is low-quality programs or colleges that churn out students — or require them to take out too much debt without providing them with the support and credentials of value to get good-paying jobs," said Murray. "We need only look at the stories of Corinthian Colleges, ITT Tech, Education Corporation of America, and so many other large, predatory for-profit colleges to know that the HEA needs to respond to what is happening to students today."

Murray also reiterated her desire to make college affordable to all students by enhancing federal investments and support systems to historically underrepresented students. She encouraged colleges to think beyond the admissions process to consider expanding peer mentoring opportunities, providing counseling to navigate the financial aid process and reducing the costs of textbooks and supplies.

Campus safety and student civil rights are also top priorities for Murray. The U.S. Department of Education, under the leadership of Secretary Betsy DeVos, has proposed controversial guidelines to change how campuses deal with sexual assault and harassment. Murray said she wants DeVos to "scrap her disastrous proposal" and bring students, survivors and advocates to the table to create a policy that "truly helps students."

Murray's remarks come weeks after Alexander announced his HEA priorities at an American Enterprise Institute event. While Murray said she agrees with Alexander that the federal student aid process should be revamped, her desire for a federal-state partnership is one of main points of disagreement between the top committee members. Murray did not provide specifics on how this model could become a reality.

In the House, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, has made it clear that he will not accept a piecemeal approach to reauthorizing HEA. On Feb. 21, Scott and education committee ranking member Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) announced plans to hold five bipartisan hearings to inform the House version of the HEA reauthorization.

The five hearings will be focused on:

  1. The Cost of College: Student Centered Reforms to Bring Higher Education Within Reach;
  2. Strengthening Accountability in Higher Education to Better Serve Students and Taxpayers;
  3. The Cost of Non-Completion: Improving Student Outcomes in Higher Education;
  4. Engines of Economic Mobility: The Critical Role of Community Colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Minority-Serving Institutions in Preparing Students for Success; and
  5. Innovation to Improve Equity: Exploring High-Quality Pathways to a College Degree.

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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