American student loan debt now exceeds $1.5 trillion, ranking even higher than auto loan debt or credit card debt. What to do?
The Aim Higher Act [H.R. 6543] is House Democrats’ main proposal.
What the bill does
Among the provisions in the 811-page bill:
- Expands federal Pell grants to more “short-term courses,” in addition to the courses and programs already covered.
- Prohibiting for-profit colleges which spend less than 50% of their tuition revenue on actual education or teaching from using any federal funding for advertising, marketing, or lobbying.
- Adds two additional factors to consider when accrediting a school, in addition to the 10 already required under current federal law: completion/graduation rates and workforce participation rates.
- Simplifies the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form, with those in the lowest income group receiving a full Pell Grant without having to answer any additional questions or fill out any additional forms.
- Allows children of undocumented immigrants (more commonly called DREAMers) and also prisoners to obtain federal financial aid for higher education.
The bill was introduced in the House on July 26 by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA3).
What supporters say
Supporters argue the bill tackles one of the biggest issues facing young people today, especially in a world where a degree is as important as ever for reaching the middle class or higher.
“The Aim Higher Act is a serious and comprehensive proposal to give every student the opportunity to earn a debt-free degree or credential,” Rep. Scott said in a press release. “It provides immediate and long-term relief to students and parents struggling with the cost of college, it puts a greater focus on helping students graduate on time with a quality degree that leads to a rewarding career, and it cracks down on predatory for-profit colleges that peddle expensive, low-quality degrees at the expense of students and taxpayers.”
“In addition, the bill modernizes student financial aid to ensure that students have access to the full range of quality four-year and two-year degrees as well as short-term credentials that give students an accelerated path to the workforce,” Scott continued. “This bill is in stark contrast to the Republican alternative, the PROSPER Act, which cuts $15 billion from federal student aid.”
(The PROSPER Act has yet to receive a vote in the full House, although it was approved in committee last year.)
What opponents say
Opponents counter that the bill, by just agreeing to pay the cost for students, fails to do anything that would actually _lower _costs or solve the real underlying problem.
“This bill would ramp up federal spending on higher education, particularly for special interest groups, without providing incentives for colleges and universities to lower tuition,” the National Association of Scholars wrote in an editorial. “It props up higher education with more money rather than reforming its structural problems.”
“It claims to offer every student ‘a path to a debt-free degree’ but makes no meaningful changes to any of the federal programs that have driven up the cost of college,” the editorial continued. “The Aim Higher Act aims higher only in its ambition to secure more federal funding. It purports to put students first, but its main beneficiaries are special interests.”
Odds of passage
The legislation could serve as a template if Democrats win back control of one or both chambers of Congress after November’s midterm elections.