University President Drew G. Faust traveled to the nation’s capital last week to meet with Democratic lawmakers about the “deep concerns” she has about the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act now making its way through Congress.
The Higher Education Act, originally passed in 1965, authorizes the federal student financial aid program and includes provisions that fund and structure programs like Pell Grants, the Federal Work-Study Program, and loan repayment plans for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.
Republican House lawmaker’s proposed overhaul, called the PROSPER Act, would restructure loan repayment plans and eliminate Federal Work-Study and public service loan forgiveness for graduate and professional students, among other changes. The legislation passed a House committee 23-17 in December but has yet to move to the full House or Senate for a vote.
In an interview Thursday, Faust said she met with Senate Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Michael F. Bennet, and Representative Rosa DeLauro to flag potential negative ramifications of the PROSPER Act for the affordability of higher education.
Faust said she and lawmakers discussed “some of our deep concerns about the impact that could have on student aid, so I believe we had a good effect there in alerting them to our concerns.”
Faust also penned a letter on Feb. 28 to Democratic Representative Katherine M. Clark, who represents Cambridge, listing the elimination of subsidized loans for undergraduates, changes to Federal Work-Study for graduate students, and the loss of public service loan forgiveness programs in the PROSPER Act as items of “especially serious concern.”
“A reinvestment in student aid must be a critical element to any new legislation,” Faust wrote. “Student access and affordability have been a priority for many institutions over the past decade, and Harvard is no exception.”
This is not the first time Faust has spoken out about the PROSPER Act. In her remarks at a faculty meeting last month, Faust said many of the aforementioned provisions may be challenged in the Senate as its committee formulates its version of the bill.
During her trip to D.C. last week, Faust also discussed immigration reform as it pertains to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—an Obama-era program that allows undocumented youth to live and work legally in the United States.
“I asked Leader Pelosi and Senator Bennett in particular for their advice on how we should best support them in their commitment to DACA and if they had advice about what the best moves would be for us going forward,” Faust said.
Apart from DACA, Faust raised concerns about the Trump administration’s terminations of Temporary Protected Status—a legal designation given to individuals from certain countries who have fled armed conflict or natural disasters—for individuals from Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Sudan. She said Pelosi, Bennet, and DeLauro were “very helpful” in those discussions.
Faust penned a letter to House and Senate leadership last month emphasizing the contributions of Harvard employees protected under TPS. Faust sent the letter a day after 50 TPS-holding workers and their allies rallied outside Massachusetts Hall to deliver a petition calling on Faust to write to lawmakers on their behalf. The terminations could have ramifications for dozens of University employees.
“Today, more than 400,000 TPS recipients live, work, and invest in the United States. As noted above, several dozen of these individuals work across multiple departments at Harvard and are highly valued and productive colleagues,” Faust wrote.
Faust has been an outspoken advocate for undocumented students and immigrants at Harvard and in higher education more broadly. She has recently signed letters, appeared on national television, and met with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to voice her support for immigration reform.
—Staff writer Kristine E. Guillaume can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @krisguillaume.
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