GOP higher education bill proposes eliminating loan forgiveness

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Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation to renew the Higher Education Act of 1965 that includes several changes to current higher education policy Friday.

One major change in the renewal bill is a proposal to eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which erases student loan debt after 10 years’ worth of payments for people working in the public sector. Henry Brady, dean of UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, said he was worried about efforts to dissuade people from entering public service.

“People are already having to make decisions about having lower incomes because they’re going into public service,” Brady said. “I think it would be bad for Berkeley because … we have historically been very good at getting people into those areas.”

The Higher Education Act of 1965 was created to strengthen resources for universities and provide assistance to students. Provisions in the legislation included enhancing teacher quality and providing student aid through work-study and scholarships.

The bill also outlines plans to streamline loan applications and expand access to apprenticeships and other career training opportunities. Additionally, universities would be required to conduct annual sexual assault surveys, in accordance with several Title IX policies pushed by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Brady said there would likely be debate over the sexual assault provisions, among other items in the bill. He also noted that the final bill will probably be significantly different, given that the Senate has yet to release its version.

“(There is) reason to believe that the bill will have a more bipartisan approach,” Brady said. “A lot of people in the Democratic Party and higher education are going to have problems.”

According to the proposed bill, campuses could be denied federal funding for not recognizing religious groups on campus, which Brady noted was “very much on the Republican agenda.”  With respect to UC Berkeley, campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof stated that there are “dozens of recognized religious Registered Student Organizations on the Berkeley campus.”

Interim Associate Vice President in the UC Office of Federal Governmental Relations Chris Harrington, said in a statement that the UC is concerned that passing the bill would “make significant disinvestments in programs of importance to UC and (its) students,” specifically regarding federal student aid programs.

Nearly 40 percent of UC undergraduates receive Pell Grants, while nearly 50 percent of recent graduates do not have any student loan debt, according to Harrington.

“UC has one of the most robust student aid programs in the nation, dramatically reducing the net cost of attendance for the neediest families,” Harrington said. “The federal government is a valuable partner in helping to ensure that higher education remains accessible and affordable for all eligible Californians.”

Revati Thatte is the lead higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @revati_thatte.