The United States House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill last week that will renew and update the Higher Education Act, which regulates financial aid and national higher education policies.
The updated bill would increase the amount of money provided by federal Pell grants and simplify the student aid application process.
The bill aims to hold colleges accountable for rising tuition costs by requiring they provide more information on how price tags are decided. Universities would also be required to provide the government and students with more information regarding financial aid options.
Currently, universities are required to send information regarding university finances, tuition costs and student aid to the Department of Education. The new bill would add hundreds of new reporting requirements.
The information gathered will be published online through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, making it available to students and families.
Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said in a discussion on the House floor that increased university reporting will provide families with the information they need when choosing colleges.
“We saw the need for sunshine and transparency in college costs,” McKeon said. “We recognized that colleges and universities were not being held accountable to consumers. There were no consequences for schools that engaged in massive unexplained tuition increases year after year.”
Wilbanks said the University of Michigan dedicates a great deal of effort to reporting information on “every aspect of its enterprise,” but said policy makers need to be mindful of the challenges of collecting large amounts of data. She said the increased reporting could be burdensome to universities.
“A lot of organizations these days are looking for ways to minimize the amount of bureaucracy,” Wilbanks said. “This adds to it in some ways.”
Cynthia Wilbanks, the University’s vice president of government relations, said the University is actively giving feedback to lawmakers about the bill.
“We continue to be fully engaged,” Wilbanks said. “We are not reluctant at all to share with policy makers the provisions that we like and the provisions we find challenging and ways in which we’d want to have them changed.”
Margaret Rodriguez, senior associate director in the University’s Office of Financial Aid, said in an e-mail message that efforts to increase federal funding for Pell Grant awards will help low- and middle- income students.
“Legislative efforts that increase federal grants for the neediest students and increase access to higher education are good,” Rodriguez said.
A full Pell scholarship provides a maximum of $4,310 for the 2007-2008 school year. The provision would call for significant increases to that number.
An amendment to the bill would eliminate the need for families to fill out the 127-question Free Application for Federal Student Aid form by allowing taxpayers to have their income and asset information compiled by the IRS and sent directly to the Department of Education.
“In general, I think people are looking for opportunities to streamline the process of student financial aid,” Wilbanks said.
The provision, she said, attempts to make it easier for students to apply for financial aid.
The act will also require schools to provide students with the expected cost of completing a degree, including tuition and fees.
An amendment made by House Republicans that would have prevented illegal immigrants from receiving federal student aid was not added to the bill.
The Senate passed its version of a renewal bill last July. Both versions will be reviewed in a joint conference between House and Senate members until both houses can agree on a version of the bill. A consensus will need to be reached by March 31, when the current Higher Education Act expires.