Higher Education Act necessary for a quality college education

Since the passage of the Higher Education Act in 1965, we have worked to make sure higher education institutions have the resources to serve students and provide them with a quality education. The most recent authorization, passed in 2008, expires in 2014 and must be updated and extended.

One area that deserves our attention is reporting requirements, which have become quite burdensome on institutions of higher learning. In the 2008 reauthorization, Republicans took strong steps to increase transparency and data collection by directing the secretary of Education to collect and report 26 different pieces of information about students, including the percentage of students receiving financial aid, the average cost of tuition and fees and the percent change in total tuition and fees. However, students still report confusion when trying to sift through the available data. Meanwhile, institutions are spending a lot of time and money in an effort to comply with the federal reporting requirements. The 7,000 post-secondary schools in the United States spent $31 million and 850,000 hours in the 2012-2013 school year just on reporting the required data to the federal government. Worse, some worry these costs could trickle down to students in the form of higher tuition and fees.

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We must make sure that college is accessible, affordable and that students who begin these programs work to complete them. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the cost of undergraduate tuition and room and board at public institutions rose 42 percent from the 2000-2001 school year to the 2010-2011 school year. The prices at private, not-for-profit schools rose 31 percent. While there are several factors that can cause tuition rates to rise, I believe we should find ways to encourage and incentivize institutions to lower costs.

Further, almost half of all students that begin higher education programs fail to complete them. A 2012 survey completed by the Higher Education Research Institute and administered at UCLA found that students at a four-year institution were more likely to overestimate their likelihood of completing college on time. About eight in 10 said they expected to graduate in four years, but data show that only about four in 10 actually do so. If students beginning college have the intention of finishing on time, what keeps them from their goals? These issues deserve further scrutiny.

On April 25, 2013, members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee reached out to students, parents, college leaders and higher education stakeholders for feedback on policies and amendments they would like to see included in the upcoming reauthorization for the Higher Education Act. We must ensure students are treated like consumers in any other market and that they are provided with the resources needed to make the best decision for their futures. We should simplify the student aid and loan programs so students know what they’re getting, what they’re expected to pay, and how this will affect their financial futures. In 2010, the cumulative lifetime default rate — calculated based on student loans, which includes defaults occurring from the time loans entered repayment through Sept. 30, 2011 — was 6.7 percent at four-year public institutions for the 2009-2010 school year.

American students are fortunate to be surrounded by many higher education institutions. With the right information, they can make smart decisions for their futures based on what they can afford, what institution best fits their needs and serves their goals, and how they will pay back their student loans.

We also must work to find the balance between accountability and overly burdensome reporting requirements. As we work to reauthorize this important legislation, please rest assured I will keep these things in mind. To submit your feedback on the Higher Education Act reauthorization to the Education and the Workforce Committee, please email HEA.Reauth@mail.house.gov.

Roe is chairman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce’s subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions.