University to host hearing on higher ed legislation

The university will host the first of six nationwide open meetings with the U.S. Department of Education to discuss the recently enacted Higher Education Opportunity Act, also known as the College Opportunity and Affordability Act, university officials said.

The meeting is scheduled to be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today in the Brown-Lupton University Union Ballroom and is free and open to the public. Individuals who wish to address the panel may begin signing up at 8 a.m.

Most of the legislation, enacted Aug. 14, pertains to financial aid regulation, however, aspects of the act will also impact other departments and offices around campus, Michael Scott, director of scholarships and financial aid, said.

The new legislation will require colleges and universities to report more information about their prices and costs. Those schools with the highest percentage tuition increases will be placed on a watch list and will be expected to explain these increases to the Department of Education.

Other measures include simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, requiring institutions to report the names of students who illegally download copyrighted property and increasing maximum limits on federal grant and loan programs. For example, under this new legislation, Pell grants for low-income students will now be available year round.

Stephanie Babyak, a spokeswoman with the Department of Education, said these meetings offer interested parties the opportunity to bring issues with the act before the Department of Education for consideration.

Scott said this is the first step in the negotiated rule-making process. In this process, the Department of Education has to write policies and procedures to carry out the legislation, clarifying ambiguous ideas and unclear wording in the original text. The department is looking for guidance from practitioners and from those the legislation will affect, he said.

Three Department of Education officials will listen to questions and comments related to the Act’s implementation, according to a press release from the TCU Office of Communications. David Warren and Sarah Flannigan, president and vice president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, and Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, will also be in attendance.

Larry Lauer, vice chancellor for marketing and communication, said the point of the meeting is not to discuss and debate what legislation has already passed.

“Our concern now is how will this be implemented, and how will this implementation affect TCU?” Lauer said.

Lauer said while the legislation is intended to cut costs, he is worried it may end up costing more instead of less, due to the manpower required to comply with some of the regulations.

Chancellor Victor Boschini, who also serves as the chairman of the board for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, will testify before the panel on behalf of the university.

Other site locations for the Department of Education meetings include Pepperdine University, the University of Rhode Island, Johnson C. Smith University, Cuyahoga Community College and the Department of Education’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.