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Congress Extends, Approves Changes to Higher Education Act

On July 31, the House approved, 380-49, the conference report for the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2008 (H.R. 4137), legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (P.L. 105-244). The same day, the Senate approved, 83-8, the conference report. President Bush is expected to sign the bill into law. The House approved H.R. 4137 on November 15 (seeThe Source, 11/16/07); the Senate approved its version of the bill on July 24 (see The Source, 7/27/07).

The College Opportunity and Affordability Act would, among other provisions, increase the maximum Pell Grant award to $8,000 from $5,800 by 2014; establish the Patsy T. Mink Fellowship program to encourage highly qualified women and minorities to enter the professoriate in academic areas where they are underrepresented; simplify the student federal financial aid application process; and expand student eligibility for the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) grant program in science, technology, engineering, math, and critical foreign languages.

H.R. 4137 also would support the participation of low-income parents in postsecondary education by providing funding for campus-based child care services. The Department of Education would receive “such sums as necessary for FY2009 and each of the four succeeding fiscal years” to administer the program.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. George Miller (D-CA) noted, “The College Opportunity and Affordability Act would accomplish the following: make Pell Grant scholarships available year-round for the first time, increase college aid and support programs for veterans and military families, ensure equal college opportunities and fair learning environments for students with disabilities…and make colleges safer for the entire campus community.”

H.R. 4137 would prohibit sex offenders who are institutionalized after their imprisonment from receiving Pell Grants.

On July 30, the House approved, by voice vote, a bill (S. 3352) to temporarily extend programs under the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA) (P.L. 105-244) through August 15, 2008. The Senate approved the measure, by unanimous consent on July 28. The current extension was passed by Congress on June 23; it expired on July 31, 2008 (see The Source, 6/27/08). President Bush signed the bill into law on July 31.

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