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House Clears Three Bipartisan Higher Education Bills

In case you were wondering what happened to those higher education bills making their way through the U.S. House of Representatives, here's a quick wrap-up of action from this week.

Spoiler alert: They all passed the House with bipartisan support.

To recap, the Education and the Workforce Committee cleared three bills July 10 as part of its effort to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, which Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., is pursuing in a piecemeal fashion.

On Wednesday, House lawmakers spent the majority of the afternoon debating two of those bills.

The first proposal they took up would allow federal student aid to be used at colleges, universities, and other postsecondary education programs that operate on a competency-based system versus a traditional credit-hour system. Reps. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., Susan Brooks, R-Ind., and Jared Polis, D-Col., authored the measure, which is aimed at getting students degrees faster and thus in a more cost-effective way. It passed the House by a vote of 414-0. You can read more about the bill, HR 3136, here.

Later on Wednesday, lawmakers cleared by voice vote the second measure, which would present to prospective students and their parents information on tuition and other college costs in a more transparent way. Reps. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., and Luke Messer, R-Ind., co-authored the bill, which, like the other two, was largely noncontroversial. You can read more about the bill, HR 4983, here.

Then on Thursday, lawmakers passed a bill that would increase the amount of required financial counseling for students and their families taking out federal student loans. Financial counseling is currently required upon entering and exiting college, but this measure would require annual counseling. Reps. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., and Richard Hudson, R-N.C., co-authored the proposal, which passed by a vote of 405-11. You can read more about the bill, HR 4984, here.

Though House Democrats threw their support behind all three bills, it's worth noting that they spent much of their floor debate time railing against Kline's approach to reauthorization, slamming him for not addressing what they consider the most pressing issues: student loan debt. They also pointed out that while the three bills would make a positive impact, the overall impact would be tiny and only scratch at the edges of the bigger picture.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee also dipped its toes into higher education issues this week, holding a hearing on Thursday about the role states play in containing costs. Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, released a discussion draft of the Higher Education Act reauthorization, which, in contrast to Kline's efforts, is a sweeping 700-page overhaul of the entire federal law.

Harkin plans to continue work on reauthorization when lawmakers return from their five-week summer recess in September, and hopes to unveil a bill sometime this fall.

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