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Harvard Admins ‘Pleased’ with House Democrats' Bill to Reauthorize Higher Ed Act

Bacow At The Table
University President Lawrence S. Bacow's office is located inside Massachusetts Hall.

After months of lobbying lawmakers, University administrators are “pleased” with the changes in a new bill proposed by House Democrats to reauthorize the Higher Education Act of 1965.

The United States House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor introduced the Democrat’s version of the reauthorization — dubbed the College Affordability Act — last month.

The Higher Education Act authorizes the federal student financial aid program and includes provisions for funding sources like Pell Grants; the Federal Work-Study Program; and loan repayment plans for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.

University spokesperson Jason A. Newtown wrote in an emailed statement that administrators are satisfied with proposed changes to higher education accessibility contained in the bill.

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“We are pleased to see the College Affordability Act is taking steps to create greater access to a college degree for students from any economic background, including long-overdue increases to the Pell grant program and improvements to student loan programs,” he wrote.

The new bill includes provisions to increase the value of Pell Grants, ease the burden of student loans, and block United States Secretary of Education Betsy D. DeVos’s proposed Title IX rule that would redefine sexual harassment, require live cross-examinations in investigatory proceedings, and allow proceedings to be discussed with outside parties.

Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex for educational institutions that receive federal funding.

Harvard and a coalition of universities across the country condemned the new Title IX proposal at the end of the public comment period in January, writing that the proposed change to the cross-examination policy is “restrictive” and “inappropriate.”

Newton also wrote that Bacow has focused on financial accessibility in conversations with lawmakers.

“In his discussion with Members of Congress, President Bacow has emphasized the importance of these programs in ensuring equitable opportunity to higher education,” Newton wrote.

Bacow has met with lawmakers throughout his tenure about the Higher Education Act — a bill that Congress has attempted to permanently reauthorize. Bacow has met with U.S. Representative Robert “Bobby” C. Scott (D-Va.) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) — who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions — about the bill’s reauthorization.

Despite support from Harvard administrators, experts have raised concerns about the long-term consequences of the bill, citing possible increases that colleges and universities may make to its tuition costs.

Neal McCluskey, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, said that institutions of higher education often raise their own prices to “capture” the increase in federal aid or reduce their own aid packages for students.

McCluskey said, however, that Harvard is a special case. Holding the largest university endowment in the world at $40.9 billion, the University may have the resources to maintain their costs despite any changes to Pell Grants or other student aid programs.

“Harvard works very hard to make itself affordable for people who would have difficulty paying the sticker price,” McCluskey said. “Many other colleges do not have the resources to do that.”

During the 2017-2018 school year, Harvard had 1,254 Pell Grant recipients who received awards totaling $5,601,702 and 1,120 students on Federal Work Study, collectively receiving $2,397,897.

Sixteen percent of the roughly 6,600 current undergraduate students receive Pell Grants, according to the Harvard College admissions website

A provision that could imperil Harvard’s social group sanctions is also on the table as the legislation moves through Congress. The College’s sanctions bar members of single-gender Greek groups and final clubs from leading extracurricular organizations, becoming athletic captains, and earning College endorsements for prestigious academic fellowships.

In a committee hearing about the College Affordability Act, U.S. Representative Elise M. Stefanik ’06 (R-N.Y.) introduced an amendment to the College Affordability Act denouncing the sanctions and seeking to guarantee “non-retaliation against students of single-sex social organizations.”

Newton wrote that the University was not in favor of that provision’s inclusion in the bill.

“We continue to be deeply concerned about efforts by Congress that would legislate student life and override Harvard’s policy on unrecognized single-gender social organizations which appropriately aligns institutional support and recognition with institutional values and our policies on non-discrimination,” Newton wrote.

—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at alexandra.chaidez@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.

—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at aidan.ryan@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.

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