Explaining the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity Through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act

The bill passed out of committee on a party-line vote and may be considered by the full House early this year.

The original Higher Education Act (HEA) was signed into law in 1965, and was intended to strengthen the federal government’s commitment to higher education. The act has been reauthorized eight times, most recently in 2008. Late last year, the House of Representatives released a draft of the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity Through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act, the next reauthorization of the HEA. The bill passed out of committee on a party-line vote and may be considered by the full House early this year. 

Two major components of the PROSPER Act are deregulation, increased oversight and accountability tied to federal student aid for traditional institutions, expanded access to federal aid funds and grants for nontraditional education providers, and the streamlining of current federal student aid and repayment options. 

Changes to Gainful Employment, Borrower Defense, Federal Credit Hour Definition

Title I of the PROSPER Act contains changes to the Act’s general provisions. The Bill takes aim at a number of regulations promulgated during the Obama presidency. These Obama-era regulations include gainful employment, borrower defense to repayment, and instituting a federal definition of what constitutes a credit hour. The bill would fully repeal gainful employment and the credit hour definition and prevent the Department of Education from regulating these areas in the future. The borrower defense changes would largely revert the regulations back to how they existed prior to changes under the Obama Administration. The bill would also prohibit the Department of Education from instituting any type of institutional ratings system. 

Under Title I, the bill redefines ‘institution of higher education,' no longer separating the designation for proprietary institutions. The current law defines proprietary institutions under Section 102, while all public and private non-profit institutions are defined under Section 101. All sectors are now under a new ‘Section 101.’ This will allow proprietaries to qualify for federal funds and grants in instances from which they were previously excluded. The new definition does, however, exclude proprietary institutions from being designated as Minority Serving Institutions under Titles III and V.

New College Dashboard Would Replace College Navigator

The Act would require the U.S. Secretary of Education to develop and make publicly available a “College Dashboard Website” that would include a wide variety of information about institutions. This would replace the National Center for Education Statistics's College Navigator – the current online consumer information tool provided by the Department of Education. The bill does not repeal the current ban on creating a federal student unit record system. Hence, the proposed College Dashboard would (at least initially) rely on institutional data entered into the IPEDS system, with a new requirement to include information for all students (including transfer students, part-time, and returning students) in categories covered under the Dashboard. The Dashboard would include, among other items, colleges' graduation rates within 100/150/200 percent of normal time of completion. That metric would include 300 percent time for community colleges. The Dashboard would also include average net price per year within income categories, average federal student loan debt held by graduates, and median earnings of graduates.

Changes to Sexual Assault Regulations

Title I also addresses regulations dealing with campus sexual assault cases. The bill would allow institutions to delay an investigation or disciplinary action in deference to a criminal investigation. Institutions would no longer be penalized for incorrect reporting if the compliance attempt is determined to have been in good faith. Institutions would also be given the authority to determine standards of evidence to be used in disciplinary hearing regarding campus sexual assault. Institutions would be required to issue campus climate surveys every three years.

Teacher Prep, Teacher Quality Partnership Grants Would Be Replaced With Apprenticeship Grants

The bill would repeal current programs authorized under Title II (teacher preparatory programs and Teacher Quality Partnership grants), and replace them with a new competitive grant for expanding access to in-demand apprenticeships. A new apprenticeship grant program would be authorized at $183 million, and would be available for one to four years depending on the application. Colleges seeking apprenticeship grant funds would be required to secure a 50% funding match, and the maximum grant would be $1.5 million per institution. Eligible applications would be limited to partnerships that include one or more businesses and one or more institutions of higher education. Funds would be used to expand access to industry-led earn-and-learn programs that lead to high-wage, high-demand jobs. The training period must be between three months and two years, and funds can be used for equipment, books and supplies, a portion of student wages, development of programming, and certification exams.

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