WATCH | College tuition costing more than ever before and getting financial aid and repaying student debt is a complicated mess. But that all could be changing soon. Congress says now is prime time to reform higher education, here's what that could look like.
Higher Education Act
Congress says this session is prime time to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. The 1965 law is reauthorized every few years and it sets the federal policies for financial aid and student loans.
The law was last reauthorized in 2008 and expired in 2013. Since then Congress has attached extensions for higher education policies in appropriations bills and continuing resolutions, but it hasn't fully reauthorized the law.
With Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, there's new momentum on the hill and that means a lot of movement when it comes to legislation, including higher education reform.
But it's not just Republicans. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say higher education reform is a top priority for them this session.
Simplifying the program
This time around, lawmakers want to streamline complicated financial aid and student loan programs.
"There’s general consensus that things are too complicated for both institutions and students," said Ben Barrett, an education policy expert with the New America Foundation.
First, lawmakers want to scale back and clarify complicated student loan programs.
Changes to FAFSA
Lawmakers could also slash the number of questions on the FAFSA form from 130 down to as little as two, which would make it easier for students to apply for federal financial aid.
"A lot of low-income students are discouraged when they sit down and see 130 questions," Barrett said. "They don't always know their parents' income, their parents may not even know their income and low-income students are already debt averse."
Expanding Pell grants
A reauthorized Higher Education Act could also expand Pell grants and bring back year-round grants for low-income students, giving them the flexibility to use money when they need it.
Simplifying has some trade-offs
In order to get the money to expand Pell grants and other financial aid programs for low-income students, Congress could cut certain loan forgiveness programs for high-cost borrowers, a.k.a. people who borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars for graduate programs.
Barrett explained that's because those borrowers tend to be more financially stable and usually don't have a problem paying back their debt. But people who take out smaller loans often struggle to pay them back.