February 5, 2018
Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, and Representative Brett Guthrie (R-KY), Chair of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, introduced the Higher Education Act reauthorization legislation known as the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform Act or the PROSPER Act. It passed out of committee on a party line vote of 23 to 17 in December and is currently under review in the House. The timing of the PROSPER Act comes as the Higher Education Act, first passed in 1965, is up for renewal. The bill addresses a number of higher education issues including financial aid, religious freedom of institutions, Public Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), protections for sexual assault survivors, and regulations of for-profit colleges.
The PROSPER Act introduces a new income-based repayment plan for student loans to replace the current PAYE and REPAYE plans. The new plan increases the percentage a borrower must pay of their discretionary adjusted gross income from 10% to 15%. For borrowers on an income-based repayment plan, the PROSPER Act removes loan forgiveness after 20-25 years of repayment. The bill also cuts back on the amount of federal loans graduate students can take, and while it does expand funding for the work study program, it eliminates graduate students from the program. The bill would also eliminate Federal Direct Loans which are low-interest loans for students and parents, and replace all federal loans with Federal ONE Loans, a loan that would be limited to a standard 10-year repayment, barring all future loan borrows from qualifying for Public Student Loan Forgiveness under the current requirements. Under the PROSPER Act regulations for for-profit colleges would also change. The PROSPER Act would remove the 90/10 rule, which currently states that for-profit colleges can’t receive more than 90% of its revenue from Title IV federal financial aid. The gainful employment rule is supposed to incentivize for-profit colleges to remain competitive with non-profit institutions. The idea is that if they are offering high-quality education they will not only be funded by federal money, but also that students will see the value in paying for the programs out of their own pockets.
The PROSPER Act would also eliminate the gainful employment rule for for-profit colleges. This rule sets a minimum debt-to-income ratio for graduates of for-profit colleges, and if the college falls below this minimum they lose all federal funding.
The PROSPER Act also allows for discrimination of LGBTQ students at religious colleges and universities. The government would not be allowed to take action against colleges for policies related to their religious mission, including those that forbid “homosexual behavior”. In some cases, colleges enforcing discriminatory policies related to their religious mission could lose accreditation, but under the PROSPER Act they would be able to appeal to the education secretary to maintain their eligibility. The bill would also change the regulations for how colleges and universities handle claims of sexual harassment and assault. Under the PROSPER Act schools could indefinitely suspend investigations into sexual harassment and assault claims if the claims are also being investigated by law enforcement. This means colleges don’t need to support students with protective measures such as no-contact orders, or changing campus living situations, as is common practice when colleges conduct their own investigation.
The PROSPER Act seems aimed at limiting access to higher education for low-income students and allowing for discriminatory practices against LGBTQ students. The Association of American Universities raised concerns about the effect the PROSPER Act would have on the affordability of higher education for millions of students, “As drafted, the House plan is seriously flawed. It seeks to eliminate subsidized loans, on which nearly six million undergraduate students depend each year . . . Perhaps most alarming, this plan would get rid of student loan programs that put graduate and professional studies within reach for many, conflicting with our country’s long-term interest of producing highly-skilled and educated talent, particularly in areas of national need.”
The National Consumer Law Center issued a letter to members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce raising concerns about the effect the PROSPER Act would have on low-income students and their families, “HB 4508, would make it more expensive for low-income students to get a higher education while simultaneously eliminating the programs that make student loan repayment for low-income students possible. Low-income students would bear the brunt of the changes to federal aid. It would also demolish safeguards that prevent low-quality schools from using abusive and predatory tactics to line their pockets with taxpayer dollars at the expense of students who are working to build a better life for their families.”
The Human Rights Campaign released a statement that raised numerous concerns about what the bill would mean for LGBTQ students and sexual assault survivors. In regards to cases of sexual harassment and assault, “the PROSPER Act would allow schools to choose what standard of evidence they use, and many could use a strict standard that makes it harder for survivors to get justice, tipping the scales in favor of rapists. It also contains a provision that would allow schools to considerably delay investigations into a case of sexual assault if there is also a separate law enforcement investigation. Meanwhile, the sexual assault survivor could be forced to continue interactions with their abusers in their dorms or classes.” As for the effect the PROSPER Act would have on LGBTQ students, “[the bill] could undermine federal, state, and local non-discrimination protections by allowing colleges and universities to ignore these non-discrimination laws simply because they have a religious mission.”
Other organizations opposed to the PROSPER Act due to the implications it will have on affordability and access to higher education include the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, The Education Trust, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, and the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities. While the PROSPER Act is expected to pass in the House, it is expected that the bill will be more difficult to pass in the Senate.
- The Institute for College Access & Success –A nonprofit working to make higher education more available and affordable for people of all backgrounds
- Human Rights Campaign –America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve LGBTQ equality
- Contact your elected officials –Let them know that access to higher education and protections for LGBTQ students and sexual assault survivors are important to you
This brief was compiled by Rebecca Leclerc. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief please contact, firstname.lastname@example.org.