The higher education community has been developing proposals to submit to the U.S. Congress as it considers amending the Higher Education Act. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education has been monitoring and contributing to proposals from our members, legislators, accrediting organizations, and others.
The Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions (C-RAC), an informal organization of all regional accreditors, reports that during 2003, most of the progress on reauthorization of the Act occurred in the U.S. House of Representatives. The House Committee on Education and the Workforce held nearly a dozen hearings on the subject.
House Republicans introduced several separate bills amending various titles of the Act. However, there has been no separate bill so far addressing student aid under Title IV and accreditation. House bills on International Studies, Graduate Education, and FIPSE were referred to the Senate.
Several House Democrats also introduced bills, including one by Rep. Miller (D-CA) on expanding education opportunities and another by Rep. Andrews (D-NJ) addressing distance education issues. Senator Kennedy (D-MA) introduced a fairly comprehensive bill focused primarily on expanding educational opportunities, teacher quality, and strengthening higher education institutions. Sen. Enzi (R-WY) introduced a bill on distance education.
The Year Ahead
The second session of the 108th Congress will be overshadowed by presidential politics that will be a significant challenge for progress on any legislation. However, both parties appear to be interested in completing Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act this year.
In the House, Republicans are expected to introduce a proposal early in the session that will affect student aid and accreditation. They also may begin moving some of the remaining bills out of committee and to the Floor in the first few months. Given the controversy in the remaining bills, some observers believe that the House could combine them into a single package.
In the Senate, according to top aides, there is still hope for a bipartisan bill. On the other hand, this may not be possible if Sen. Kennedy insists on vastly expanding the direct loan program.
The first significant action in the Senate is expected to be a hearing on the subject of accreditation, promoted largely by Sen. Sessions (R-AL).
MSCHE members should continue to contact Commission staff with questions or suggestions.
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