Congress may ax crucial higher education programs

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An equity-busting markup of the Higher Education Act is making its way through Congress, and education advocates, outraged by the barriers it would create, are rallying against it.

"If rogue for-profit colleges and private lenders were to dream up a higher education bill that lines their own pockets at the expense of working- and middle-class students, this would be it," wrote AFT President Randi Weingarten and United University Professions (State University of New York) President Fred Kowal in a joint statement.

Student debt rally signs

"The bill cuts off equitable access to four-year college degrees. It takes a scythe to income-based repayment programs and loan forgiveness for borrowers who serve the public. It trashes basic protections for students, such as the 90/10 rule, which caps the amount for-profit colleges can get from federal financial aid sources, and the gainful employment rule, which requires colleges to produce students who are gainfully employed after graduation."

Introduced Dec. 1 and passed through the House of Representatives' education committee in the wee hours of Dec. 12, the bill, called the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity Through Education Reform Act, or the PROSPER Act, is an attempt to reauthorize the Higher Education Act of 1965. That act was originally designed to create a more equitable education system. But opponents say the 2017 version is a template for making college and university education less accessible. Among its provisions:

  • Reconfiguring federal student aid with new dollar limits on borrowing;
  • Eliminating Title II, which provides about $600 million in annual grant and partnership programs for teacher training;
  • Eliminating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which forgives student loans for qualified graduates who work in public schools, public safety and other public sector jobs;
  • Eliminating loan forgiveness under the income-based repayment plan;
  • Eliminating gainful employment, borrower defense (which forgives loans for students whose schools have given them worthless degrees) and the 90/10 rule;
  • Holding minority-serving institutions to performance-based provisions;
  • Weakening state-level efforts to restrain predatory practices by student loan servicers who defraud and mislead their borrowers; and
  • Changing Title IX provisions regarding sexual assault on campus.

Student debt kills dreams"By curtailing or eliminating programs that provide access to college, student loans, loan forgiveness and teacher preparation, the PROSPER Act would make college significantly less accessible and affordable," wrote AFT President Randi Weingarten in a letter to Congress.

The PROSPER Act was crafted by the majority-Republican House Education and the Workforce Committee, with no input from Democrats on the committee, and was introduced by Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), a friend to for-profit higher "education" corporations. It was rushed through committee the same day it was introduced, and passed after a 13-hour markup session. Democrats introduced multiple amendments, nearly all of which failed.

Next steps involve bringing the bill to the full House of Representatives floor, and introducing it—or scrapping it and starting over—in the Senate.

[Virginia Myers/photos courtesy popularresistance.org]