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Read House Republicans’ Bill That Would Bring Sweeping Changes to Higher Ed

After a flurry of movement this week on the reauthorization of the federal law governing higher education, which is overdue for an update, the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday introduced its bill to overhaul the Higher Education Act of 1965.

Summary details of the legislation, including plans to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, put a cap on the amount that graduate students may borrow, and end the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, were reported on Wednesday. But the release of the full text fleshes out the details of those proposals.

The bill is a move toward undoing some of the priorities of the Obama administration, said Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University. “It salts the earth on gainful employment and college ratings,” he said.

But it also does more to try to simplify student loans and income-driven repayment plans, he continued, and delves into some of the more political issues in higher education. The bill would ban free-speech zones and deny federal funds to public institutions that do not recognize campus religious groups.

Campus Sexual Assault

The legislation appears to codify the interim guidance on Title IX and campus sexual assault from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights with more detail, says Scott D. Schneider, a lawyer who specializes in higher-education issues at the firm Fisher Phillips. The guidance was issued following the Trump administration’s repeal of the Obama-era regulations in September.

“For instance,” he said, “schools will get to pick which standard of evidence they will use in disciplinary proceedings,” as long as that standard is applied consistently. "Preponderance of evidence," a lower standard compared with "clear and convincing," according to due-process advocates, was set out in the 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter from the Obama administration.

The bill would also require that all parties have information a week before a disciplinary proceeding, which is in line with what most Title IX practitioners recommend. The proposed legislation also includes a requirement that colleges conduct annual sexual-assault surveys.

Minority-Serving Institutions

As reported on Wednesday, the legislation would tie Title III and Title V funds for minority-serving institutions, including historically black colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions, to their ability to graduate or transfer 25 percent of their students. A Chronicle analysis estimated the number of colleges that might be affected by the proposal.

Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, an advocacy group for black colleges, praised the legislation for incorporating provisions that would expand the permitted use of Title III funding. He also applauded the addition of the University of the Virgin Islands as a Title III-eligible institution.

Career and Technical Education

Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration have placed a heavy emphasis on apprenticeships and career training as an alternative to a “traditional” four-year degree, and the legislation proposed Friday moves the ball on expanding access to those programs. A White House outline of priorities for the reauthorization includes a provision that would expand Pell Grant eligibility for “high quality short-term, summer, and certificate programs."

Last month a senior department official, Kathleen Smith, told The Chronicle that nothing was off the table for the administration in terms of expanding apprenticeship programs. One tool to test program efficiency is the department’s Experimental Sites Authority, which it can use to waive regulator requirements.

The bill would require rigorous evaluation of the experimental sites, but it includes a provision that would require Congressional “notice and comment” on the projects, said Clare McCann, deputy director for federal higher-education policy at New America. That process had a “chilling effect” on experiments in the past because it required the department to go to Congress for approval on sites.

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