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New College Affordability Coalition Releases Principles for Reauthorization of The Higher Education Act

Thursday, July 25, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As Congress plans to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA), a new coalition has formed to advocate for needed federal investments and protections in order to promote more equitable outcomes within our higher education system. The College Affordability Coalition, a group of 25 organizations representing the voices of students and families, consumers, institutions, and civil rights groups, today released principles for HEA to strengthen the Pell Grant program (PDF), renew a federal-state partnership for college affordability, and create a borrower-centered federal loan system.

The Coalition calls on Congress to make changes in these three areas in several ways:

  • Congress should protect Pell from the annual budget cycle, double the maximum award to cover at least half the cost of attendance at public universities, and restore the automatic adjustment for inflation. Congress should also expand Pell to incarcerated individuals; eliminate the question on drug convictions on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid; provide access to Pell grants to certain eligible undocumented students, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiaries and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) beneficiaries; and take a careful approach to shortterm programs that seek to use Pell dollars.
  • A new federal-state partnership should be created that invests federal and state dollars to bring down the cost of college—including tuition and nontuition costs—and ensures schools are adequately resourced to serve students well.
  • Improvements to borrowers’ repayment options should be made with any savings generated funneled into additional benefits for low- and moderate-income borrowers. Borrowers’ pathways out of debt should be streamlined, automatic discharge should occur when possible, and the consequences of default should not be punitive. There should be oversight and transparency in the loan program, particularly for contractors who interact with borrowers such as loan servicers and private collection agencies.

“With release of these principles for college affordability, we call on Congress to make the investments that are urgently needed to close disparities in college opportunity and meet the needs of the approximately 44 million Americans carrying student debt,” said James Kvaal, president of The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS). “Ensuring all Americans - especially students of color and low-income students - can afford to enroll and complete college is critical to upward mobility and economic growth.”

"The Education Trust is pleased to support affordability principles that would dramatically improve our nation's higher education system, especially for students of color and students from low-income families,” said Reid Setzer, The Education Trust’s Director of Government Affairs. “Investing in and expanding Pell – including restoring Pell Grants for students who are incarcerated, creating a federal-state partnership geared toward serving underrepresented students, and streamlining and improving loan repayment are all much-needed steps to make college more affordable and close existing equity gaps that separate low-income students and students of color from their peers in higher education."

“Our federal loan system must be re-designed to serve students and borrowers, rather than industry interests," said Ashley Harrington, Senior Policy Counsel, Center for Responsible Lending. “As student loan debt spirals out of control, Congress has a responsibility to create a borrower-centered federal loan system in HEA that reduces the need to borrow to access college, provides better pathways out of debt, and ensures that when students do need to borrow they have the information and protections necessary to do so in the least burdensome way.”

Ben Miller, Vice President for Postsecondary Education, Center for American Progress, said, “The next Higher Education Act must be the moment that we turn the tide on the constant increases in price and debt, with their worrisome effects on equity and today’s students. These principles outline a reasonable series of steps that policymakers should pursue to start restoring affordability in higher education. Importantly, they must occur concurrently with changes to accountability that help more students realize their potential.”

Jen Mishory, Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation said, “Students face unacceptably high college costs, and Congress must do much more in this reauthorization to fix that. Expanding Pell, reducing debt burdens, and creating a federal-state partnership that invests both more federal dollars in affordability, and leverages renewed state investments, are critical components of those efforts."

Olivia Golden, Executive Director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), said, “As an anti-poverty organization that promotes economic security for people with low incomes, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) is pleased to join its advocacy partners in calling on Congress to make targeted, bold investments in strengthening the Federal Pell Grant Program, renewing a state-federal partnership for college affordability, and creating a borrower-centered federal loan program. Strengthening the purchasing power of Pell Grants will help low-income students cover the cost of a postsecondary credential, including the rising cost of basic living expenses. By restoring Pell Grant eligibility to incarcerated individuals and expanding access for undocumented immigrant youth and beneficiaries of Temporary Protected Status, Congress can promote equitable access to a high-quality postsecondary education for millions of low-income students. That’s why CLASP supports these college affordability principles for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.”

For more information, or to arrange an interview with a CRL spokesperson on this issue, please contact Vincenza Previte at