For the second time in as many months, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has suggested that it’s time to scrap the legislation that governs federal higher-education policy and to start afresh. During a speech on Tuesday to the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, Ms. DeVos said the Higher Education Act of 1965 may have outlived its usefulness.
"We are advancing and growing as a people at an unbelievable rate. But the public policy that guides education has only inched along," Ms. DeVos told the audience of university leaders. "Consider the Higher Education Act, or HEA. This 50-year-old law still governs and defines much of what you can — and cannot — do to educate the students you serve."
"For me, and I suspect for most Americans, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to simply amend a 50-year-old law," she continued. "Adding to a half-century patchwork will not lead to meaningful reform. Real change is needed."
The legislation has been reauthorized several times since it was first passed. Its most recent iteration was set to expire in 2013, but was extended to allow legislators more time to work on a new version.
Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chair of the Senate education committee, has told The Chronicle that reauthorizing the Higher Education Act is his top education priority during this Congress.
Clare McCann, a senior policy analyst at New America, a think tank in Washington, said Ms. DeVos’s continued suggestion of a replacement for the landmark law shows how the Trump administration misunderstands higher education.
If the Education Department were to seek a brand-new piece of governing legislation for federal higher-education policy, and get the requisite support from Congress, it would be a heavy — though not impossible — lift, said Dan Madzelan, vice president for government relations at the American Council on Education.
The point of reauthorizing the act is for legislators to have a starting point, said Mr. Madzelan, who previously worked in the department for more than 30 years. "You have knowledge of the existing programs: what is working, what can work better, and what should just be eliminated."
"Contrast that with not reauthorizing it and starting with something new," he said. "You would have to begin from a blank sheet of paper."