Higher Education Act

Summary

The Higher Education Act (HEA) was enacted in 1965 under President Lyndon B. Johnson. Its goal was to bolster the educational resources of American universities and to “provide financial assistance for students in postsecondary and higher education.” HEA is the law that governs the administration of federal student aid programs, which are covered by Title IV of the Act.

The most recent reauthorization of HEA is the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), enacted in 2008 under President George W. Bush. The 2008 reauthorization changed HEA’s regulations regarding students with disabilities, financial aid, and cost transparency in educational institutions. This most recent HEA legislation is set to expire in 2013, which requires Congress to either reauthorize or extend it by the end of the year. However, if Congress fails to pass an on-time reauthorization bill in 2013, then an automatic 1-year extension will take effect. After that, Congress must pass additional legislation to extend HEA if it is not fully reauthorized.

Why Is This Important to NAPE?

Postsecondary degrees have become a prerequisite for many jobs in today’s economy. However, because the cost of education is rising continuously—primarily in the form of tuition and student loan interest rate hikes—few students are able to afford a college education without a substantial financial burden. HEA is a key piece of legislation for addressing issues related to college affordability and promotion of equity in higher education.

Current Status

July 23, 2014: The House of Representatives approved two bipartisan legislative proposals that will spur innovation and strengthen transparency in higher education. The bills are part of a broader effort to improve postsecondary education through reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Learn More

August 9, 2013: The Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act was passed, amending HEA and currently restoring lower interest rates for student loans by linking loan interest rates to financial markets.

July 31, 2013: A bipartisan group of Representatives passed a bill that would reduce student loan interests rates in the immediate future but would increase rates in future years as the economy grows. The bill is likely to be signed by the President in the near future.

July 17, 2013: A bipartisan group of Senators reached agreement on how to reduce student loan interest rates. However, the rates would only be temporarily reduced until the end of the 2015 academic year, when they would rise significantly.

April 16, 2013: Senate and House committees held the first hearings on reauthorizing HEA. They focused primarily on federal student loan interest rates, because of the imminent hikes that will occur in July 2013 if Congressional action is not taken to prevent them.

March 2012: Student loan debt officially surpassed auto and credit card debt in America, according to a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Necessary Action

It is imperative that Congress reauthorizes HEA to adequately addresses the needs of students, many of whom are struggling financially to earn a postsecondary education. Congress must reduce today’s students’ loan interest rates, without putting the burden of excessively high interest rates on future students. Additionally, Congress must emphasize the needs of women and underrepresented minorities when reauthorizing HEA. Both groups are disproportionately affected by student loan debt. Women and underrepresented minority students rarely make the same salaries as non-minority populations once they graduate—meaning a greater percentage of their income goes to paying off their student loan debt after they graduate from school.

Resources and Publications

CLASP: Higher Education Act webpage
Institute for Higher Education Policy
National Skills Coalition: Higher Education Access webpage
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education

Confused About Student Loans? Do Your Homework (USA Today, August 2013)
Graduating to a Pay Gap: The Earning of Women and Men One Year after College Graduation (AAUW, 2010)
HEOA Summary, “Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities” (Think College)
How Student Debt Impacts Students of Color (Center for American Progress, April 2012)
Summary of HEOA: Provisions Affecting Educator Preparation Programs (AACTE, September 2008)