Senate Education Committee Chair Prioritizes Higher Education Reform in 2019

During the first hearing held by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee of the 116th Congress, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) identified reauthorization of the Higher Education Act as one of his top legislative priorities for 2019.

“I hope we can complete our work on both reducing health care costs and improving higher education in the first six months of this year, so we can get something to the president before the end of the year,” said Alexander.

The Higher Education Act, first passed in 1965 and last reauthorized in 2008, governs most aspects of higher education in the United States, including accreditation, federal student aid, and institutional and program development. In the previous Congress, PAEA submitted letters to both the Senate HELP Committee as well as the House Committee on Education and the Workforce offering recommendations to enhance the efficacy of the committees’ reauthorization efforts. Among PAEA’s recommendations to committee leadership were incorporating language to both ensure equitable access to Federal Direct Loans for PA students and incentivize PA faculty and program development at minority-serving institutions.

Beyond the realm of higher education, the hearing, titled “Access to Care: Health Centers and Providers in Underserved Communities,” focused on five programs set to expire at the end of September, including funding for community health centers and the National Health Service Corps (NHSC).

In written comments submitted to the committee, PAEA joined fellow NHSC stakeholders in calling for, at a minimum, a five-year reauthorization of mandatory funding for the NHSC with a systematic doubling of the program’s authorization level to meet workforce demand as identified by the Health Resources and Services Administration. PAEA also indicated its support for continued additional discretionary funding allocated in FY18 and FY19 to support an expanded behavioral health workforce to address the ongoing opioid epidemic.

First elected to the position of HELP committee chairman in 2015, Alexander previously served as U.S. Secretary of Education under the George H.W. Bush administration from 1991–1993. In 2018, Alexander announced that he would not seek re-election to a fourth Senate term in 2020, leading higher education experts to anticipate a final reauthorization effort prior to his retirement.

As Congress continues its work to reauthorize both the Higher Education Act and the NHSC, PAEA’s Government Relations Team urges all PA education advocates to stay engaged with lawmakers through our action alerts to promote the interests of PA programs, faculty, and students.