From the Daily: Lobby against the PROSPER Act

Monday, February 12, 2018 - 6:40pm

higher education bill, known as the PROSPER Act, has been passed through committee and is awaiting consideration by the House of Representatives. PROSPER, which stands for “Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity Through Education Reform,” is intended to reassert and amend the 1965 Higher Education Act, with a strong focus on the processes by which students pay for higher education and the regulations on free speech and assembly within these institutions. The Michigan Daily Editorial Board feels that the provisions of the bill hurt students pursuing higher education financially and socially, as well as in regard to their safety. There are serious problems within the current bill, which should not be passed without significant amendments.

Economically, the Republican-driven bill restructures loan repayment plans and removes Public Service Loan Forgiveness. These changes make it more difficult for undergraduate and graduate students to receive financial aid because of PROSPER’s redeveloped loan limit. The bill also calls for the elimination of Stafford and PLUS loans, replacing the varying options with a singular Federal ONE Loan program.

These Federal ONE Loans give students differing borrowing limits, depending on their financial situation; dependent undergraduate students are able to borrow $39,000 in federal student loans, and independent undergraduate students have a $60,250 lifetime cap. Repayment options are also being restricted, with only two new repayment plans that are the standard 10-year plans. These limiting actions, in addition to the phasing out of all federal grant programs (excluding the PELL grant), have the potential to widen the education disparity between socioeconomic groups and lessen the educational options available to lower-income students. The loss of options, aid and change in loan caps ultimately restrict students and make the pursuit of graduate education less attainable.

In addition to monetary changes, PROSPER also includes many social restrictions that could leave students fearing discrimination. There are explicit provisions within the bill about freedom of expression and religion, which will make it so that no government institution is able to take action against an institution of higher education that is acting within “its religious mission.” This has prompted many LGBTQ advocates to fear legal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The fear of discrimination acts as a barrier for students deciding to which schools to apply, limiting their education options.

The bill allows private institutions to receive federal funding regardless of whether or not they institute discriminatory practices. The provisions also allow for discrimination at the public level, as student organizations could undermine a university’s anti-discrimination policies due to their own beliefs and determination of freedom of expression. And finally, the focus on freedom of speech within PROSPER could possibly make it even easier for controversial speakers to reach campuses, leading to social tensions and higher potential for security risks, putting the safety of college students into question.

In addition to economic and social provisions, PROSPER also comments on due process in a manner that undermines sexual assault policies on campuses across the nation. With a focus on sexual assault within PROSPER, the bill allows institutions to set their own standards for evidence when investigating accusations. Institutions could, therefore, have the right to introduce greater criminal standards, possibly “beyond a reasonable doubt” — the standard of proof required in criminal cases — rather than the “preponderance of evidence” standard previously required by the Obama administration. This allows for more opportunity for victim shaming, longer trial times and the undermining of survivors’ accusations. And, this again affects LGBTQ students disproportionately, as they are more susceptible to sexual assault and less likely to report their experiences. This could ultimately impact the number of student survivors who come forward and the concern given for those who do.

The PROSPER Act is a bill that hurts current, future, undergraduate and graduate students by directly affecting their experience and safety within their college environment, while also limiting the choices they have when applying for higher education. The Michigan Daily Editorial Board calls upon the University of Michigan to lobby against this bill when the time comes as it is not conducive to our values of equal opportunity and anti-discrimination.

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