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Letter to Senators Kennedy and Enzi on the higher education bill

June 20, 2007

Dear Senator:


On behalf of the National Education Association's (NEA) 3.2 million members, including some 200,000 students, faculty, and staff at postsecondary institutions, we would like to offer our views regarding the Higher Education Amendments of 2007 (S. 1642) and the Higher Education Access Act, the accompanying budget reconciliation provisions. We are encouraged by the steps taken in this legislation to expand federal financial student aid, a key priority of our organization. We commend you for these efforts and look forward to working with you as the bill moves forward to maximize this opportunity to address the financial needs of our nation's postsecondary students.

We are pleased that the legislation marked up earlier today by the HELP Committee would do the following with regard to student aid:

  • Increase the Pell Grant maximum to $5100 next year and to $5400 by 2011;
  • Simplify the process of applying for federal student loans;
  • Increase income protections for working students;
  • Cap monthly loan payments at 15 percent of discretionary income.

These provisions represent an important step toward making postsecondary education more financially accessible. It is our hope that further efforts, including reductions in student loan interest rates, will be included in the student aid changes.

In addition, as an organization representing educators, we are encouraged by the changes made to the Higher Education Act's Teacher Quality Partnership grants. These changes reflect the need to provide more support to prospective teachers and to equip them with stronger pedagogical skills to teach an increasingly diverse student population. 

While the student aid changes are significant and positive, our organizations remain very concerned about another issue, the Academic Bill of Rights. The quality and diversity of American higher education institutions flourish because the federal government has focused on ensuring the greatest level of access for all students while abiding by a principle of nonintervention in curriculum and teaching. The so-called "Academic Bill of Rights" movement seeks to amend the Higher Education Act to make unnecessary, ideologically-driven changes under the guise of protecting students against purported, unproven bias by faculty. Colleges and universities already have sufficient policies and procedures to ensure the quality of education, while guaranteeing the rights of students and faculty alike, including tenure and due process policies to protect academic freedom, statements of student rights and responsibilities, and student grievance procedures. 

Further, over the last four years, 28 states have considered legislation aimed at correcting an alleged "political bias" at their state colleges and universities, and all declined to enact the legislation, regardless of which party held the political majority. Enacting this provision (Section 104 of S. 1642) would set the precedent of promoting federal standards for how colleges and universities make academic decisions, would send a chilling message to our nation's professors, and would stifle the open debate and free exchange of ideas so fundamental to higher education.

Finally, we hope to be able to work with you further regarding the issue of transfer of credit. We believe it is important that students have the ability to move from one institution to another and that, in the interest of protecting academic quality, faculty determine the content of transfer of credit policies. We look forward to discussing these issues with you further.

As this legislation moves forward, we would appreciate additional opportunities to work with you to ensure the most effective expansion of federal student aid, address our concerns about ABOR, and discuss other important issues in the legislation. Thank you for considering our views.

Sincerely,

Diane Shust, Director of Government Relations

Randall Moody, Manager of Federal Advocacy