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Senate Compromise on HBCU Funding, FAFSA

December 4, 2019

Leaders of the education committee of the U.S. Senate on Tuesday released a bipartisan proposed amendment that would make permanent $255 million in annual funding for historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions, simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and eliminate paperwork for income-driven student loan repayment plans.

The compromise amends an HBCU funding bill the U.S. House passed in September. It follows months of wrangling over a package of bills proposed by Senator Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the education committee. Those bills would have served as a stripped-down version of a reauthorized Higher Education Act and included proposals for extending Pell Grant eligibility to short-term programs and incarcerated students.

FAFSA simplification was also part of that package, which was tied to the HBCU funding extension. In an apparent nod to Democrats, last month Alexander backed a bill aimed at for-profit colleges and their recruiting of veterans and active-duty service members.

Alexander, who will step down from the Senate next year, celebrated the release of the amendment, which was backed by a bipartisan group of Senators on the committee.

“It’s hard to think of a piece of legislation that would have more of a lasting impact on minority students and their families than this bill,” he said in a statement. “First, it provides permanent funding for HBCUs and other minority serving institutions attended by over two million minority students. Second, it takes a big first step in simplifying the FAFSA for 20 million American families, including eight million minority students, and eliminating the bureaucratic nightmare created by requiring students to give the federal government the same information twice.”

The amendment would eliminate up to 22 questions from the FAFSA, which currently includes 108. It also would reduce paperwork for 7.7 million federal student loan borrowers on income-driven plans.

“While this funding should never have lapsed in the first place, I’m glad that we were able to reach a deal that provides minority-serving institutions with the certainty of funding they deserve -- and I truly appreciate the work done on both sides of the aisle to get us to this point,” Senator Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat and ranking member on the education committee, said in a statement. “By permanently extending funding for these valuable institutions and streamlining our student aid system, this deal is a win-win. Now, I look forward to continuing to work with my Republican colleagues on efforts to overhaul the Higher Education Act in a comprehensive, bipartisan way that does right by all students.”

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Paul Fain

Paul Fain, Contributing Editor, came to Inside Higher Ed in September 2011, after a six-year stint covering leadership and finance for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Paul has also worked in higher ed P.R., with Widmeyer Communications, but couldn't stay away from reporting. A former staff writer for C-VILLE Weekly, a newspaper in Charlottesville, Va., Paul has written for The New York Times, Washington City Paper and Mother Jones. He's won a few journalism awards, including one for beat reporting from the Education Writers Association and the Dick Schaap Excellence in Sports Journalism Award. Paul got hooked on journalism while working too many hours at The Review, the student newspaper at the University of Delaware, where he earned a degree in political science in 1996. A native of Dayton, Ohio, and a long-suffering fan of the Cincinnati Bengals, Fain plays guitar in a band with more possible names than polished songs.

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