Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are beginning to hear concerns from higher education groups regarding the PROSPER Act.

In December, House Republicans finalized a bill that would reauthorize the Higher Education Act. Known as the PROSPER Act, the bill aims to streamline student aid programs, get rid of several regulations, limit certain benefits to graduate students, and more.

The initial response from higher education groups was surprisingly restrained, in part because so many people were focused on the tax bill. But that began to change this past month when higher education groups began expressing their concerns about the bill.

Peter McPherson is the CEO of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), a group that is known for working across the aisle with both parties. In January, McPherson sent a letter to House leaders sharing his belief that the PROSPER Act will make federal student aid, and thus college, less accessible for many students.

And the American Council on Education criticized the effect the bill could have on both students and graduate students. And the group’s senior vice president, Terry Hartle, said the bill has moved through the House committee so quickly that advocates had little time to analyze its effects.

This past Monday, 35 higher education groups wrote a letter to House leaders warning them that in its current form, the PROSPER Act would perpetuate student loan debt and higher education access inequality.

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Conversely, Preston Cooper, a research analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, objected to the idea that the PROSPER Act is largely a cut to student aid. He pointed out that the bill also proposes increasing Pell Grants for full-time students and puts a payment cap on income-driven repayment plans.

A Republican spokesman said that the current state of higher education needs this kind of serious reform. He added that the committee welcomed productive feedback from like-minded organizations.

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander is leading the chamber’s education committee. He hopes to markup legislation for the PROSPER Act by April, giving the committee enough time to bring the bill to the House floor before the election cycle begins. However, Democratic committee members have indicated that they hope to slow down that timeline.

Michael Dannenberg, a director at Education Reform Now, said that moving the PROSPER Act along before November is a smart move; it would give Republicans another accomplishment to talk about on the campaign trail.

However, Craig Lindwarm, director at APLU, said that due to the large number of concerns surrounding the bill, he hopes that there will be serious reforms to the PROSPER Act before it goes to the House floor.

Image Copyright © Joel Kramer