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Congress Grinds Away At Formulating New Higher Education Act Policy

Anyone paying attention to the top media headlines these days might be surprised to learn that Congress is getting closer to passing significant new reforms to the U.S. higher education system.

The Higher Education Act is in serious need of a rewrite. The current policy has not been updated in 10 years. Several committees in both the House and Senate have been drilling away at the problem, mostly away from the media spotlight – and that’s because bigger stories, such as the Russia probe, North Korea and tax reform have sopped up most of the oxygen in mainstream news rooms.

Changes being suggested by lawmakers to the Education Act will have major consequences for millions of families. That’s because it spells out the rules for student loans, how much schools charge for tuition, private vs. public school policies and much more.

While progress is being made, the effort to revamp USA education has produced the usual partisan wrangling. Many thorny issues still divide Democrats and Republicans. For example, Republicans want to eliminate the so-called “90/10 rule.” It states that for-profit private schools cannot get more than 90% of their revenue from federal sources. Democrats have called dumping the 90/10 rule “a non-starter.”

Surprisingly, however, there has been a lot of bipartisan deal-making despite the potholes remaining. Widespread agreement has emerged over simplifying the federal student loan application process, as well as making the time-frame for application shorter.

There also has been agreement on allowing students to “test out” of certain required fields of study. That means they can skip hours of costly class time and effort if they can pass a competency test on a particular subject beforehand.

Successfully cobbling together a new Higher Education Act would be significant accomplishment for Congress with wide-ranging implications for American college students.

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