Skip to content

With Focus on Affordability and Access, HELP Chairman Harkin Unveils Discussion Draft to Reauthorize Higher Education Act

Proposed “Higher Education Affordability Act” Would Increase College Affordability, Hold Schools Accountable to Students and Taxpayers, and Help Families Make Informed Decisions About College

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, today released for discussion a draft proposal for the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). 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. The proposal focuses on four main goals: increasing college affordability, helping struggling borrowers, strengthening accountability, and improving transparency.

With students and families struggling to keep up with soaring college costs, an affordable college education - and the path to the middle class that it provides - is increasingly out of reach. The Harkin proposal takes steps to make college more affordable for students today and includes important measures to help ease the student loan debt burden of millions of struggling borrowers.  Additionally, this proposal will give students and families the information they need to make more informed decisions by creating greater transparency and accountability in higher education.

“For generations, a college education has been the pathway to the middle class, but new challenges are threatening that promise for many families in Iowa and across the country.  The upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which the HELP Committee has been focused on for nearly a year, presents an historic opportunity for Congress to focus attention on college affordability and accountability, help borrowers with existing student debt, and increase transparency so students and families can make informed decisions,” Harkin said. “This proposal is based on recommendations the Committee has received through its series of bipartisan hearings. I look forward to working with Committee members and all Senators to discuss and improve upon the ideas we are releasing today.”

“I appreciate Senator Harkin’s work in bringing this important discussion draft forward. Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act is critical to ensuring more Americans have the opportunity to advance their education and succeed in the 21st century economy,” said Senator Patty Murray, a senior member of the HELP Committee. “I’m especially pleased this discussion draft outlines ideas for bringing down the skyrocketing costs of college so more students, from all kinds of backgrounds, have the opportunity to get their degree. I look forward to working with Senator Harkin and the committee on our ongoing efforts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.”

“This legislation is an opportunity to continue the vital work of reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, so we can strengthen our colleges and universities and provide the necessary resources for all students to have access to post-secondary education. I am grateful for the Chairman’s work in assembling this first draft so we can focus on issues like expanding PELL Grants, simplifying the financial aid process, making college more affordable, protecting our LGBT students, and ensuring veterans get the supports they’ve earned,” said Senator Bob Casey. “A college education is the surest path to middle-class success and is still one of the best investments students can make in their future. I look forward to working in a bipartisan fashion to move this legislation forward.”

“This proposal offers strong investments in higher education and increases transparency so students and families can make better choices. We need to keep our promise to the next generation by making college more affordable and giving them a fair shot at building a stronger future for themselves and our country,” said Senator Tammy Baldwin. “I look forward to continuing my work with the HELP committee and Wisconsin students, parents, and educators, to improve our higher education system to ensure that it is accessible and affordable for all Americans.”

The Committee has convened ten hearings to discuss the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), the main law governing institutions of higher learning in the United States.  In these hearings, the Committee heard from students, parents, educators, and other stakeholders on how to improve our higher education system to ensure that it is accessible and affordable for all Americans.

This discussion draft represents Chairman Harkin’s initial thoughts on the policies to be considered as part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.  In addition to the ideas contained in this proposal, Chairman Harkin believes other policies need to be addressed as part of any reauthorization of HEA, including the development of a student unit record system, reforming accreditation, and additional simplification measures.  As the Committee continues its work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, Chairman Harkin looks forward to a robust discussion on such topics and the proposals put forward in this draft.

To facilitate the submission of feedback and suggestions from interested stakeholders, Chairman Harkin’s office has created the following email - - for the submission of feedback. Any submissions for consideration should be submitted no later than August 29, 2014, at 5:00 p.m. EDT.

Full details about the provisions in the Higher Education Affordability Act discussion draft can be seen here.

As Chairman of the HELP Committee, Senator Harkin has been a strong voice for college affordability and access. In 2012, Chairman Harkin led Senate passage of the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act, to reduce interest rates on all federal student loans. In 2010, Chairman Harkin fought to pass the Health and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010, which eliminated billions of dollars in wasteful subsidies to banks and redirected that money to students and families in the form of increased Pell Grants to low-income college students, putting the priorities of students and families ahead of subsidies to lenders. Prior to the HEA reauthorization process, Harkin also chaired four hearings in 2012 and 2013 on college affordability.