This article was updated at 9:25 p.m. on July 29, 2018, to clarify details regarding the Aim Higher Act.
Photo courtesy of Education and the Workforce Committee Democrats
Story by Sarah Dixon-Morgan / Contributing Writer
With goals to make college more accessible and affordable to a larger number of students, the Aim Higher Act was revealed to the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, beginning the early stages of its legislative process. The bill comes as a revision to a previous Democratic proposal, the Higher Education Act.
The legislation is spearheaded by Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia. The fundamental goal of this legislation is for the federal government to work with states to provide a two-year degree at a community college tuition-free. It plans to incentivize states to participate in the program and would “bring innovation to our outdated higher education system.” Furthermore, the bill would provide stronger financial support to teachers through grant and loan assistance programs.
Those in favor of the bill argue that it gives a priceless opportunity for more students to gain a college degree. The bill could lessen the financial burden of college on families and students and reduce the ever-growing reach of exploitative for-profit universities. However, there are a number of people against the proposal. Many people argue that this bill and others like it put a large financial burden on tax payers. Despite some negative responses, the bill has received countless statements of praise.
“This newest Higher Education Act proposal includes provisions that take bold steps to narrow inequities in college access, affordability and success by strengthening and protecting federal need-based aid, supporting targeted degree-completion strategies, enhancing transparency and expanding educational opportunities for some of the most vulnerable students–those who are incarcerated,” said Michelle Asha Cooper, the president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, in a statement regarding the bill.
In direct opposition to the mostly Democrat-supported Aim Higher Act is the Republican version called the PROSPER Act. Their take on higher education reform would work to end Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs and many grants given to teachers and students in the education system. Both bills, however, plan to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, in order to streamline the application based on the complexity of applicants’ financial situations.
Craig Lindwarm, the assistant vice president of congressional and governmental affairs for the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, offered insight into the impact of the Aim Higher Act on university students.
“Most importantly for students, students would benefit in increases for the Pell Grant and ensure that those increases would be sustained during inflationary periods,” Lindwarm said.
An increase for the Pell Grant would mean more money to assist students who display exceptional financial need and have not earned a bachelor’s or a professional degree.
Lindwarm said that the proposed legislation only has a chance of moving forward if Democrats take control of the House of Representatives. Because of the division between parties, legislation like the Aim Higher Act will likely not progress until the Democrats have a larger influence in the House. In the Senate, however, the only way to get higher education policies passed is through bipartisanship. The leader for the Senate committee on higher education is Tennessee’s own Lamar Alexander.
“As of now, (Lamar Alexander) is the key player on the Higher Ed Act,” Lindwarm said. “He recognizes, given the nature of the Senate, that he has to work with (Democrats) to get legislation on higher education passed.”
While this act offers the opportunity for bipartisan support, many people are skeptical of whether or not legislators will be cooperative and intersect party lines.
“In light of the various differences between the PROSPER Act and the Aim Higher Act, much work remains ahead to achieve reauthorization of the HEA,” said the Thurgood Marshall College Fund in a statement released on their website in support of the bill.
Education serves as a controversial topic in Congress under current circumstances, but the hope from Lindwarm is that all sides can unite to legislate what is best for present and future students in universities across the nation.
“Things have not progressed this year, but it remains to be seen,” Lindwarm said.
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