Despite a lengthy legislative to-do list, Congress continues efforts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, a wide-ranging bill that authorizes funding for colleges and universities and provides policy on financial assistance for college, graduate and postgraduate students. AVMA is working at every step of this process to protect veterinary needs.
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce advanced its version of the reauthorization, called the “PROSPER Act,” in December 2017. Meanwhile, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee has been holding a series of hearings on higher education before releasing any legislation.
The Senate committee started its hearings in late 2017 with focus on safe campus environments and simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) – goals that share bipartisan support. In January and February, the committee held four hearings focused on financial aid simplification and transparency; access and innovation; accountability and risk to taxpayers; and making college more affordable.
Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said he sees consensus emerging around a “student-focused” approach to HEA reauthorization, which includes “simpler, more effective regulations to make it easier for students to pay for college and to pay back their loans; reducing red tape so administrators can spend more time and money on students; making sure a degree is worth the time and money that students spend to earn it; and helping colleges keep students safe on campus.”
AVMA staff are meeting with key congressional offices to advance our higher education principles, while also monitoring the hearings. Based on these discussions, there are several areas in which veterinarians and veterinary students need to continue to make sure our voices are heard. These include the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and financial aid programs tailored to graduate and professional students, such as GradPLUS.
AVMA has been working hard to ensure any efforts to simplify federal financial aid programs also address the needs of graduate and professional students. Most recently, we had an opportunity to submit comments to the HELP Committee. In a joint comment letter, we joined the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) to highlight the unique needs of veterinarians and urge that the GradPLUS and Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs be preserved.
While the Senate committee hopes to release a draft bill in the spring, the road ahead for Higher Education Act reauthorization is long. Each chamber will have to pass a bill, and negotiations will follow to iron out any differences. Then, the negotiated package will need to be voted on again by each chamber and signed by the president. During the last reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, it took Congress nearly a year to negotiate the final bill.
AVMA members have been vital in shaping congressional conversations on this subject. Together, members of the AVMA Congressional Advocacy Network (AVMA CAN) have made more than 5,000 contacts to Congress in support of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and other federal loan options for graduate students. You can add your voice by using our online tool to send an editable, pre-written letter to Congress. If you haven’t already, we encourage you to sign up as a member of AVMA CAN to receive breaking email alerts about opportunities to advocate for important higher education issues affecting the veterinary profession.