House Education and Labor Committee Passes HEA Reauthorization Bill

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The House Education and Labor Committee passed the Democrat’s Higher Education Act reauthorization bill, the College Affordability Act, along party lines earlier this year, but its fate beyond committee action is unclear.

On October 31, the House Education and Labor Committee passed the College Affordability Act (H.R. 4674) by a party-line vote of 28–22, after adopting 18 of the 56 amendments introduced during the markup, which was held October 29, 30, and 31.1 The bill would reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA), which provides the basic framework for our nation's postsecondary education policy.

The College Affordability Act covers a wide range of issues, including funding and new guidelines for competency-based education (CBE) programs, as well as a version of H.R. 1772, the Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education (AIM HIGH) Act. EDUCAUSE worked with the American Council on Education, the Association of American Publishers, the National Federation of the Blind, and the Software and Information Industry Association to develop the legislative proposal that became AIM HIGH, and the association continues to support the bill alongside those partners.2

During the markup, members briefly discussed the College Affordability Act's provision on CBE programs, which would create and fund a demonstration project (or pilot program) to explore how the federal government can best extend federal student aid access and associated quality assurance requirements to CBE programs. This provision notably excludes for-profit institutions from participating and receiving Title IV funds. The exclusion drew criticism from House Republicans during the markup. In an effort to address Republican concerns, Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI) offered an amendment that would replace the original provision with one that allows greater access to funding for CBE programs for all types of institutions, including for-profits. The amendment was ultimately defeated by a vote of 17–28, leaving the original CBE provision in the bill.

Though not mentioned or amended in the markup, the College Affordability Act iteration of the AIM HIGH Act differs from its original form. Previously introduced during the 115th Congress, the original AIM HIGH bill established a commission of representatives from major stakeholder communities (including higher education) to develop voluntary accessibility guidelines for postsecondary instructional materials and related technologies. The College Affordability Act's AIM HIGH provision eliminates the voluntary nature of the accessibility guidelines and excludes language in the original bill that explicitly limits the ability of federal agencies to incorporate the guidelines into regulation solely by reference. Furthermore, it removes the safe harbor provisions included in the original bill without adding a provision, agreed to by the stakeholder groups, that would foster the development of voluntary guidelines for the pilot testing of relevant materials and technologies. The original version of the AIM HIGH Act was reintroduced in the House on December 5, but it has yet to be introduced in the Senate.3 EDUCAUSE is working with its partners to support reintroduction of the Bill in the Senate near future.

The College Affordability Act now awaits a full House vote. EDUCAUSE will monitor the bill's progress and keep readers updated on future actions, but with Senate action on HEA reauthorization stalled for the foreseeable future, it appears unlikely that lawmakers will reach a deal on any legislation capable of enactment before the 116th Congress adjourns in 2020.4

For more information about policy issues impacting higher education IT, please visit the EDUCAUSE Review Policy Spotlight blog as well as the EDUCAUSE Policy page.


  1. "Markup H.R. 4674, College Affordability Act" [], Education & Labor Committee, October 29, 2019.
  2. Jarret Cummings, "EDUCAUSE-Supported Accessible Instructional Materials Bill Reintroduced in House," Policy Spotlight (blog), EDUCAUSE Review, March 31, 2017.
  3. Kathryn Branson, "Accessible Instructional Materials Legislation Reintroduced in the House of Representatives," Policy Spotlight (blog), EDUCAUSE Review, December 10, 2019.
  4. Kathryn Branson, "Legislation Updating HEA Is Blocked on Senate Floor," Policy Spotlight (blog), EDUCAUSE Review, December 3, 2019.

Kathryn Branson is a Senior Associate with Ulman Public Policy.

© 2019 Kathryn Branson. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.