Even though five years overdue, Congress's recent passage of the bill to renew the Higher Education Act helps students and the public, but the changes are not revolutionary. Congress took a long time to work out negotiations on the bill and we think many of the changes are good, but the bill could still do more.
Here are some of the changes:
The maximum federal Pell Grant has been increased to $9,000 from a little less than $5,000. Pell Grant funding will also be available year-round, instead of only during the academic year. This will help students continue to receive federal funding during the summer so they can complete their degrees faster. Pell Grants do not have to be repaid and are awarded based on financial need and college cost. The Pell Grant increase sounds incredible, but only keeps pace with the rising cost of tuition and room and board. Ohio is unique because of the current tuition freeze, but we know that won't last forever.
A helpful provision of the bill will also make it easier to for families to complete FASFA. This makes everyone's life easier, but it's especially important for low-income families or first-generation college students. Those students often don't have the guidance to fill out long complicated forms. This will make it less cumbersome for them to get to college. Filling out a FAFSA should never be a deterrent from attending college.
The bill has also increased colleges' reporting requirements. Now, colleges must report prices for tuition and fees to the Education Department. The department will publish annual lists of the top five percent of universities with the highest and lowest tuition and fees as well as those with the largest percentage increases in those areas.
Universities with the greatest cost increases must give an explanation of the increases and their plans for cost-reduction. We think more transparency is good for the public, but these provisions for greater reporting may prove to be the greatest cost to Kent State and the costs probably won't be offset by additional funding.
Textbook publishers will now have to report more information about prices and editions to faculty members. This may cause understanding faculty members to think twice about assigning textbooks that cost a few hundred dollars. Colleges will also have to provide advance information in class schedules about required textbooks including the ISBN number and retail price or the author, title, publisher and copyright date if that number is not available. The bill also requires publishers to provide prices on different textbook options such as "bundled" versus "unbundled" options or unbound or paperback versions. We think this is a great idea because it will help students and faculty make smarter decisions for cost-effective textbook shopping and deal with rising textbook costs.
We think this bill contains mostly good news for students, but it doesn't change the fact that many students will still be in debt coming out of college.