In the five months since the 2020 presidential election, NACAC has celebrated a string of legislative victories impacting a wide range of policy priorities, including undocumented students, school counselors, and student loan repayment. These accomplishments are the culmination of years of advocacy by NACAC members and staff to promote the interests of students and college admission counseling professionals on the federal level.
At the close of the tumultuous 116th Congress in December, the House and Senate finalized a massive omnibus spending bill that included COVID relief funding for schools and colleges, fiscal year 2021 education funding, and policy changes to the Higher Education Act.
NACAC and its colleagues in the higher education community stress that these changes are best viewed in combination, rather than individually. Together, they represent an effort to improve equity and fairness in the federal financial aid system while recognizing the breadth and depth of need. “The financial aid community applauds the bipartisan work in Congress to simplify the federal student aid application process and improve financial aid predictability for students,” said NASFAA President Justin Draeger. “During this time of crisis, lawmakers showed up for students by expanding Pell Grant eligibility and lengthening students’ eligibility for subsidized loans.”
Congress implemented a wide range of changes to the FAFSA and federal student aid eligibility formula that will take effect over the next two to three years. The number of questions on the FAFSA will be reduced from 108 to 36.
Just after his inauguration, President Joe Biden signed a series of executive orders marking significant advocacy victories. Three of those orders addressed requests NACAC made for the first 100 days of the new administration: strengthening the Deferred Access for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, eliminating the previous administration’s travel bans, and pausing federal student loan payments due to the pandemic.
The American Rescue Plan, Biden’s signature initiative to further infuse COVID relief funding and strengthen the government’s ability to manage relief and other programs, was passed in early March. The bill included $40 billion for higher education, half of which must be spent on emergency financial aid for students in need. In addition, the bill included a bipartisan measure to close a loophole in federal law that allows predatory for-profit colleges to target veterans and servicemembers. NACAC has advocated for this change for more than a decade to stop the well-documented exploitation of those who have served our country. The components of this legislation checked off another four of NACAC’s Priorities for the Biden Administration’s First 100 Days.
We’re building on this success with additional legislation introduced in the 117th Congress. NACAC has endorsed the Put School Counselors Where They Are Needed Act, introduced by Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA), which would provide federal funding for school districts to hire school counselors. We encourage you to contact your members of Congress and ask them to support this bill.
NACAC has also endorsed the American Citizenship Act, a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes the DREAM Act, one of our longest-standing policy priorities. While the Biden administration has strengthened DACA, Congress must act to provide a permanent solution to the challenge facing America’s undocumented students.
Finally, NACAC supports the Protect Our Students and Taxpayers (POST) Act, sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN). This legislation would increase the percent of revenue that forprofit colleges must earn outside of federal funding, a measure that ensures they are not exclusively reliant on taxpayer funding. We encourage you to contact your members of Congress and ask them to support the POST Act as well.
—David A. Hawkins