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Broad Support for Harkin’s Higher Education Affordability Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Following yesterday’s release of the Higher Education Affordability Act, a broad range of education, student, consumer, labor, and disability advocates expressed their support for provisions of the bill.  Released by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, the Higher Education Affordability Act takes a comprehensive approach to rein in rising college costs and ensure the system is better serving students and families.

Read a summary of the bill here. Excerpts from letters of support are immediately below, and a list of organizations supporting provisions in the bill is at the bottom of this release.

“[W]e are particularly pleased with the inclusion of a federal-state partnership in the reauthorization. A federal-state partnership involves a necessary carrot to hold states accountable in funding higher education. We applaud the Senator for prioritizing new standards for third-party servicers. Streamlining the income-based repayment plans and including automatic enrollment for delinquent loans is an important step stopping $1.3 trillion of student loan debt from ballooning to two trillion. Taxpayer money should not be submitted to waste, fraud, and abuse, which run rampant in the for-profit sector. The inclusion of a new formula to calculate the student loan default rate index, and adjusting the 90-10 rule to 85-15 are other important aspects of the Senator’s reauthorization bill.”

--United States Student Association 

“We applaud Chairman Tom Harkin’s serious proposal to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, and are pleased to see a number of improvements for students, including: federal incentives for states to invest in higher education, more information and counseling for students about financial aid, the reinstitution of year-round Pell Grants, and efforts to strengthen educator preparation programs.”

--The Education Trust

“Today’s proposal to reauthorize the Higher Education Affordability Act represents a major step forward in expanding access and affordability to quality postsecondary education for all Americans. This proposal makes significant new investments in Pell Grants and offers strong incentives for states to restore and increase their investment in higher education, as CAP has called for in its Public College Quality Compact. It also makes student loans more affordable by expanding affordable repayment options, such as Pay As You Earn. Finally, it takes a major step forward in improving quality assurance in our higher-education system by making accreditation more transparent and requiring improved oversight by the Department of Education of postsecondary education institutions, particularly those that are organized for-profit. We look forward to taking part in the robust discussion of the draft called for by Chairman Harkin of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee in the weeks ahead.”

--David Bergeron, VP for Postsecondary Education, Center for American Progress

“I write on behalf of the membership of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities … to offer support for your blueprint for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The discussion draft of the Higher Education Affordability Act addresses a broad range of challenges facing American higher education and proposes thoughtful policy solutions based on the Committee’s extensive review of the facts and its bipartisan series of hearings on the issues… Beyond the impressive substance of your legislation, we are also grateful for the process the Committee has adopted as it moves forward. This legislation is based on extensive fact-finding and investigative efforts, as well as on the lengthy record of bipartisan hearings held during the past year.”

--Edward G. Elmendorf, Senior Vice President for Government Relations, American Association of State Colleges & Universities

“We are writing in strong support of the Higher Education Affordability Act, which would make improvements to the Higher Education Act and make college more affordable and accessible for low-income and underprepared students. These reforms are much-needed in light of the growing proportion of jobs requiring a postsecondary education amid growth among the number of students for whom college is increasingly out of reach … The Higher Education Affordability Act would improve college affordability and access for more low-income students and take steps to strengthen the transparency of institutional outcomes to facilitate better decision-making among students and their families..”

--Olivia Golden, Executive Director, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)

“As a network of approximately 400 members nationwide with a mission to build, strengthen, and empower communities committed to college access and success, we are pleased that many of the proposals align with our policy priorities to make college affordable and the college decision process more transparent. Specifically, the required use of prior prior year tax data in the FAFSA form, restoration of a year-round Pell Grant program, and efforts to simplify the financial aid process including standardized financial aid award letters and strengthened loan counseling will all benefit NCAN’s students. These are all issues that NCAN stressed in my November testimony to the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.”

--Kim Cook, Executive Director, National College Access Network

“The Higher Education Affordability Act contains many provisions that would help student loan borrowers, their families, and therefore the broader economy. It would increase accountability for servicers and student debt collectors, and protect borrowers from negative credit report impacts. It would provide protections for borrowers that currently exist in the mortgage market but are absent in the student loan market, including – but not limited to – loan origination, dispute resolution and servicing transfer problems…The Higher Education Affordability Act would additionally help borrowers in the most difficult situations by making private loans dischargeable in bankruptcy.”

--Americans for Financial Reform 

“The Higher Education Affordability Act will help students and their families make smarter decisions about choosing a college and financing a college education. It will also improve accountability by creating a new loan repayment rate metric that cannot be manipulated like the cohort default rate and by providing better disclosures about college costs and financial aid.”

--Mark Kantrowitz, Senior VP and Publisher,

“We applaud language in the proposed bill that closes loopholes and strengthens current law to prevent fraud and abuse in higher education. We have long advocated for the changes included in this proposal: including educational financial assistance from all federal agencies, such as Department of Defense tuition assistance and GI Bill benefits, for the purposes of calculating the “90/10” rule; strengthening the “90/10” rule by returning to an “85/15” ratio, requiring institutions that receive federal financial aid to certify that at least 15 percent of their revenues are coming from somewhere other than federal sources; and barring schools from using federal financial aid money for marketing to and recruiting students.”

--Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers

“On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association and the students they serve, we thank you for sharing your discussion draft to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. We especially appreciate the focus on making higher education more affordable, reducing student debt, and increasing accountability and transparency in every area. We also appreciate your thoughtful revision of Title II to reflect current “best practices” and address the pressing challenges our nation faces with regard to teacher preparation, and for recognizing faculty and staff as stakeholders in the higher education enterprise.”

--Dennis Van Roekel, President, National Education Association

“We enthusiastically support the HEA Act’s proposed changes related to income?driven repayment of student loans, which streamline the multiple existing plans into one improved plan that better targets benefits to borrowers who need them the most. The improved plan caps payments at 10 percent of income, discharges any remaining debt after 20 years of payments, never capitalizes interest, and helps prevent default by automatically enrolling borrowers if they have not made a required payment for six months. We have recommended many of these changes for years and are pleased that they are included.”

--Lauren Asher, President, The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS)

“We support your focus on increasing college affordability, addressing loan debt, strengthening accountability, and improving transparency. We are particularly encouraged to see the inclusion of a number of proposals that the financial aid community has championed, including: reinstating year-round Pell grants; including “ability to benefit eligibility criterion for certain programs; mandating the use of prior-prior year income data in need analysis; and expanding early notification of potential financial aid eligibility to students.

--Justin Draeger, President, National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators

“NAESP and NASSP are pleased with many of the provisions contained in the draft related to the recruitment and preparation of the nation’s principals. The proposal makes several positive changes to the programs that are critically important to improving our nation’s education system and supporting the essential role of principals as they provide instructional leadership in schools.”

--Gail Connelly, Executive Director, National Association of Elementary School Principals  and JoAnn Bartoletti, Executive Director, National Association of Secondary School Principals

“We commend the reinstatement of the year-round Pell Grant. We believe all students who wish to attend school throughout the year should be able to do so. In addition, the creation of federal aid eligibility for “Ability-to-Benefit” students enrolled in career pathways programs will provide opportunity for thousands of students who otherwise could not enroll in college, and we hope eligibility ultimately will be expanded.”

--Walter G. Bumphus, President & CEO, American Association of Community Colleges and J. Noah Brown, President & CEO, American Community College Trustees

“We appreciate that you crafted a bill containing several student-centric reforms to our nation’s higher education system, while including greater consumer protections against low-performing institutions. The draft is a strong step forward in our efforts to reform our higher education system to work better for students.”

--Young Invincibles

“The higher-education system must be strengthened to help current students and borrowers. The proposal to reauthorize the Higher Education Act contains needed improvements that will help current students by making college more accessible and provide better support for those with student loans. We look forward to working with Congress to help pass this and other important pieces of legislation that help students and borrowers support themselves and their families.”

--Anne Johnson, Executive Director, Generation Progress

“We commend you for your commitment to preserving the integrity of federal financial aid programs, protecting the interests of both students and taxpayers in the process. Your work in bringing to light evidence of waste, fraud and abuse in the federal aid programs has focused attention on the challenges facing students who have been lured into sub-prime educations, often to disastrous results. Your proposal to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA) with greatly strengthened program integrity measures will provide badly-needed protections against such consequences for students, and against further loss of precious taxpayer dollars for postsecondary education.”

--Joyce E. Smith, CEO, National Association for College Admission Counseling

“This bill would get at the root causes of rising student debt by allocating more resources to schools and expanding access to Pell grants, which are a lifeline to low- and middle-income students trying to pay for college.  Furthermore, the bill would standardize and improve financial aid disclosures and loan counseling, to promote transparency and student choice.  It would also bring much-needed relief to current borrowers by strengthening student loan servicing standards, simplifying the loan repayment process to promote flexible options, and restoring bankruptcy rights to private loan borrowers.  In addition, this bill would increase accountability by strengthening oversight of for-profit colleges receiving taxpayer dollars.”

--Pamela Banks, Senior Policy Counsel, Consumers Union

On behalf of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), the largest professional organization of teachers, administrators, higher education faculty, and researchers concerned with the education of children with disabilities and/or gifts and talents, I am writing to express support for key provisions of the Higher Education Affordability Act that will expand access to and success in postsecondary education opportunities for individuals with disabilities”

--Deborah A. Zigler, Associate Executive Director, Council for Exceptional Children

“The Thurgood Marshall College Fund applauds Chairman Harkin for releasing a first draft of legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.  We support efforts by the Committee to expand services and grant opportunities for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions. We look forward to working with the Chairman, Ranking Member Alexander and the full Senate HELP Committee to address key issues under the bill.”

--Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., President & CEO Thurgood Marshall College Fund  

“Our veterans face numerous obstacles in obtaining a college degree; from managing their campus experience as nontraditional students to navigating complex bureaucracies of the DoD and VA. This legislation will make that road a little smoother by ensuring our returning servicemembers and veterans receive the education benefits they have earned, along with the tools and resources to make the best decisions for themselves and their families. We also applaud your focus on strengthening consumer protections around the servicing of student loans. As the recent press accounts and enforcement action have highlighted there is a critical need to put in place strong rules to better protect not only for military families and veterans, but all student loan borrowers. This legislation puts in place a number of common sense provisions that will do just that.”

--D. Wayne Robinson, CEO, Student Veterans of America

“We applaud your attention to reforming student loan servicing and collections. The lack of basic consumer protections afforded to student loan borrowers by servicers has been well documented by the CFPB, FDIC, and the Department of Justice. In some cases, abuses have resulted in borrowers paying more than they owe; failing to have access to all the repayment options and benefits for which they qualify; or ruining their credit. This legislation includes many provisions to create greater accountability of servicers and collectors, and basic protections for student loan borrowers that are already afforded to consumers taking out mortgage or other loans.”

--Leslie Parrish, Deputy Director of Research, Center for Responsible Lending

“The 2.1 million members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), an organization that includes prospective students, current students, and the instructors and staff of colleges and universities across the United States, is pleased to support the Higher Education Affordability Act of 2014. The bill's goals of increasing affordability and reducing college costs; helping student borrowers better manage their loan debt; and holding schools more accountable to both students and taxpayers are important and essential reforms for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.”

--Peter Colavito, Director, Government Relations, SEIU

“The American education system is undergoing an historic transformation as states implement new college and career-ready standards and assessments. Full implementation of these standards is dependent upon the quality and effectiveness of the teachers and leaders in the nation’s schools. Your proposed improvements strengthen teacher preparation through Title II of HEA and will help ensure that all students receive the quality instruction they need and deserve”

--Bob Wise, President, Alliance for Excellent Education

“The bill’s focus on peer mentorship, independent living skills, accessibility, integrated socialization, and academic enrichment will better prepare students with disabilities to successfully graduate from college. As a result, students will be able to become self-advocates for their education throughout their lives. Furthermore, the training of staff and faculty will allow students to work and learn in a comfortable and appropriately challenging environment. HEAA will empower all members of the educational system and ensure that students possess the skills needed to enter the workforce.”

--Mark Perriello, President and CEO, American Association of People with Disabilities

“As Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, you and your Committee staff have shown a deliberative and thoughtful approach to our nation’s higher education system. I particularly appreciate the great strides you have made toward improving access, affordability, transparency, and accountability among postsecondary institutions. From expanding federal financial assistance to creating more robust reporting criteria, the reauthorization establishes important markers in helping low-income and minority students graduate on-time and on sound financial footing.”

--Delia Pompa, Senior Vice President, National Council of La Raza 

“Students, families, and borrowers will benefit from the Chairman’s proposal to standardize the depiction of the financial aid award, so students are able to compare aid awards campus to campus, and are not misled into under-estimating the amount of loans they will assume.   The proposal also strengthens the mandatory loan counseling that student borrowers undergo by adding in more personalized information into the content, reviewing information about income-driven repayment options, and reminding students of the generous repayment terms that federal loans carry compared to private student loans.  The legislation will help private loan borrowers control their debt amounts by requiring that private loans are certified by the borrower’s college first.”

--U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG)

“We believe all students should have access to the supports they need to be successful. We are pleased that Title IX of HEAA would help students with disabilities successfully transition to post-secondary education and improve their self-advocacy skills, as well as provide technical assistance to colleges and universities to better enable them to support the needs of students with disabilities.”

--Susan Gorin, Executive Director, National Association of School Psychologists

“The IRA is writing today to thank you for your commitment to advancing draft policies in the Higher Education Act reauthorization that will strengthen the investment in quality teacher preparation and professional development programs. The Proposed provisions that will bolster and enhance teacher training focused on ensuring more students gain the literacy skills they need to success are those that: define and reinforce the essential components of effective literacy instruction for all students; support teacher training programs that focus on impacting high need students (e.g. English language Learners and students with disabilities); and reinforce the continuous advancement of the quality of literacy instruction and professional development.”

--Marcie Craig Post, Executive Director, International Reading Association

“[W]e are particularly encouraged that this bill will give borrowers more chances to get out of default through the rehabilitation program… We support the provisions to rein in collection fees that compound the pain for borrowers and limit their future opportunities to go back to school, enter repayment, and contribute productively to society and the economy…. We are also encouraged that this bill will take steps to improve servicing standards for student loan borrowers… We also support the creation of automatic entry into income based repayment (IBR) for borrowers in late stage delinquency… Finally, we are encouraged that this bill begins to tackle the problem of students who are being needlessly steered into campus sponsored bank accounts.”

--Deanne Loonin, Director, National Consumer Law Center

“On behalf of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), I am writing to you in support of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Affordability Act (HEAA), and in particular, to emphasize how important it’s Title IX will be to assure that people with disabilities have equal access to higher education and the supports necessary to succeed in their postsecondary studies…For people with disabilities today, higher education is not a luxury but an imperative—it is their best pathway to a secure economic future. Reauthorization of the HEAA, and in particular it’s Title IX, advances the interests of the nation by seeing to it that every person who could contribute to a strong, competitive economy following their postsecondary education is provided with the opportunities to do so.”

--Margaret A. Nygren, Executive Director and CEO, American Association on Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities

“We are glad to see that the Higher Education Act reauthorization process is continuing and that Senator Harkin has focused the reauthorization effort on streamlining reporting requirements, while ensuring that both traditionally and alternatively certified teachers are held to the same high standards with respect to the required reporting data, and ensuring that data reflects the quality of their teacher preparation programs and their teachers’ outcomes in the field, including evidence of student learning.  The Higher Education Act plays a critical role in shaping teacher preparation programs across the nation and reporting requirements should, without being burdensome, include outcomes and be tied to fair accountability measures and must be consistent for all kinds of teacher prep programs.”

--Teach for America

“The Senate proposal will help students [with disabilities] by including a stronger presence in the law for students with disabilities including a reauthorization of the Transition Program for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID) programs with a renewed focus on outcomes and dissemination of the practices learned by the original 27 programs. The bill also expands technical assistance to ensure institutions of higher education (IHE) can recruit, retain, support, and graduate students with disabilities. An expanded technical assistance center can assist high school students with disabilities and their families as they search for IHEs that will support them as they pursue post-secondary education. The bill also focuses on increasing access to accessible curriculum and program materials. Finally, the bill establishes evidence-based practices to recruit, retain, support, and graduate students with psychiatric disabilities.”

--Leslie Cohen, President, American University Center on Disabilities

“You offer truly visionary, readily achievable, crucial new proposals that, when implemented, will go a great distance in improving not only our country’s higher education systems, but more importantly, the positive outcomes for persons with disabilities who are the ultimate beneficiaries.”

--Stephan J. Smith, Executive Director, Association on Higher Education and Disability

“Given the role of NHEC to advocate for and make recommendations on Native Hawaiian education, NHEC strongly supports legislation that improve the affordability of higher education; the ability of students to manage their student loan debt; and the accountability and transparency of schools’ activities and practices in order to help students and their families. NHEC is especially supportive of changes in Title III that allow more flexibility to institutions on how they may use federal funds under this title. This increased flexibility will allow Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), such as the Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions to provide more services that are needed by students who are often the first in their families to attend college. We are also pleased that the proposed legislation includes a new innovation fund for MSIs in Title VII.”

--Maggie Hanohano, Chairwoman, Native Hawaiian Education Council

“The undersigned members of the Coalition to Promote Self-Determination (CPSD) are writing you to thank you for your leadership in working to reauthorize the Higher Education Act and to offer support of the proposed provisions outlined in Title IX of Higher Education Affordability Act (HEAA), specifically the: National Technical Assistance Centers for Higher Education Access; National Data Center on Higher Education and Disability; Transition Programs for Postsecondary Students with Disabilities; Requirements for providing Accessible Instructional Materials for Students with Disabilities that include requests to the Access Board; The creation of a Commission on Serving and Supporting Students with Psychiatric Disabilities in Institutions of Higher Educations.”

--Members of the Coalition to Promote Self-Determination (APSE, Autism Society, Assoc. of University Centers on Disability, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Institute for Educational Leadership, National Disability Institute, National Disability Rights Network, National Down Syndrome Congress, National Down Syndrome Society, National Fragile X Foundation, National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities, TASH, United Cerebral Palsy.

“Chairman, the Higher Education Affordability Act (HEAA) exemplifies the values of the DD Act in that it provides a wide variety of supportive services to integrate people with developmental disabilities into the community —including evidence-based supports, support for STEM training, greater access to educational materials, mentoring and networking opportunities, transition programs for post-secondary and higher education, technical assistance to develop student self-advocacy skills and further development of teacher preparedness programs for students with disabilities. This legislation is crucial in moving forward the education agenda of the disability community and we would gladly welcome the programs and provisions it would create. We applaud your work to improve access to postsecondary education for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

--Esme Grant, Director of Public Policy, National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities

“On behalf of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE), I write to thank you for including language in your bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA) --the Higher Education Affordability Act (HEAA) -- that supports students with disabilities in higher education programs. Specifically, your bill calls for (1) national technical assistance centers for higher education access and (2) transition programs for students with intellectual disabilities. NASDSE believes that these programs can help to ensure that students with disabilities have access to higher education programs that will prepare them for higher-paying jobs in the workforce.

--Theron East, Executive Director, National Association of State Directors of Special Education.

“The Autism Society of America (ASA) thanks [you] for your continued leadership on behalf of individuals with disabilities and is very supportive of your efforts to make need changes in the Higher Education Affordability Act as part of its reauthorization process.”

--Scott B. Badesch, President & CEO, Autism Society of America

“We are pleased that the bill thoughtfully addresses and integrates the needs of students with disabilities throughout. We know that all students can achieve high standards when they have the appropriate supports and services that allow them to succeed. We are pleased that HEAA recognizes and responds to the reality that students with disabilities need better information to successfully enroll in postsecondary programs and complete them.”

--James Wendorf, Executive Director, National Center for Learning Disabilities

“In particular we applaud the inclusion of provisions to improve access to instructional materials by students with disabilities. Blind students have many untapped talents and people with disabilities face an abysmal unemployment rate. It is essential that we ensure these students pursue higher education and receive the equal access and supports they need to succeed once they are there. Title IX of this reauthorization vehicle takes many sound steps to achieve these goals.”

--John G. Pare, Executive Director for Advocacy and Policy, National Federation of the Blind

“We are writing to thank you for your leadership and commitment to promoting transition from high school to college for students with disabilities as part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. As currently proposed, the provisions that will make a difference to every student with a disability are: National Technical Assistance Center for Higher Education Access; National Data Center on Higher Education and Disability; Transition Programs for Postsecondary Students with Intellectual Disabilities; Requirements for providing accessible instructional materials including requests to the Access Board to develop guidelines on the accessibility of instructional materials used in higher education; Creation of a Commission on Serving and Supporting Students with Psychiatric Disabilities; Including special education as a high need focus for teacher training programs; and, Teacher training incentives in the use of universally designed curricula, textbooks and assessments so students can access instructional material and demonstrate their knowledge and skills. COPAA is excited about the opportunities the reauthorization creates for students with disabilities. The added provisions not only create greater access to college but they also enhance and support the prospect of students gaining a meaningful education that lead to profound work experiences, careers and full-time employment.”

--Denise Marshall, Executive Director, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates

“I [] applaud your proposal to ensure that all individuals who graduate from degree programs in the field of education receive training on instruction of students with disabilities. This proposal would help ensure that all students with disabilities have the opportunity to learn in an inclusive, integrated setting alongside his or her nondisabled peers.”

--Samantha Crane, Director of Public Policy, Autistic Self Advocacy Network

The organizations voicing support for provisions of the proposal include: the Alliance for Excellent Education; American Association of Community Colleges;  American Association of Community College Trustees; American Association of State Colleges and Universities;  American Association of People with Disabilities;  American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities; American Federation of Teachers;  Association of University Centers on Disabilities; Association on Higher Education and Disability; Autism Society; Autistic Self Advocacy Network; Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success, Center for Law and Social Policy;  Center for Responsible Lending;  Center for American Progress; Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination; Council for Exceptional Children; Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates Inc.; The Education Trust; Generation Progress; Higher Education Consortium for Special Education; International Reading Association; Mark Kantrowitz,; National Association of Elementary School Principals; National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities; National Association of Secondary School Principals;  National Association for College Admissions Counseling; National Association of School Psychologists; National Association of State Directors of Special Education, Inc.; National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators; National Education Association;  National College Access Network; National Council for Learning Disabilities;  National Consumer Law Center; National Council of La Raza; National Down Syndrome Society; National Federation of the Blind; Native Hawaiian Educational Education Council;  SEIU; Student Veterans of America; Teach for America;  Thurgood Marshall College Fund; TICAS; USPIRG; USSA; and Young Invincibles.