Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine visited Virginia Tech this past Friday, April 26, to gain student opinion on the Higher Education Act reauthorization.
Passed in 1965, the Higher Education Act (HEA) governs postsecondary logistics including Pell Grants, Perkin Loans, student loan transparency between lender and borrower, and campus safety. The HEA overarches almost every aspect related to higher education and is supposed to be renewed every five years; however, it was most recently reauthorized in 2008.
The event was hosted by the Student Government Association (SGA). Kaine started the event by explaining the basics of the HEA. He then spoke one-on-one with students about college affordability, college mental health services and campus safety. Attendees voiced their concerns about issues specific to Virginia Tech and policies like Cook Counseling overcrowding. Students also mentioned concerns about more national topics like rising tuition prices.
SGA’s director of governmental affairs, Manasha Bhetwal, a sophomore majoring in international relations, found the forum provided a “good informational session for students” and hopes it will spur more student outreach. Bhetwal encouraged civic engagement from not just students in political science but, from all majors because all students are “here for a reason” and can bring ideas to the table.
Kaine previously visited community colleges like New River Community College and Wytheville Community College as well as larger schools like Emory & Henry College to gauge student thoughts on the HEA.
Primary focuses for the senator’s HEA agenda include career and technical education, K-12 teacher training, public service loan forgiveness, and on-campus sexual assault awareness.
Pell Grants — federal student aid loans determined by income that commonly do not need repayment — will also face legislative changes this year. Kaine aims for Pell Grants to have more flexible time standards in which they can be used for shorter programs like an eight-week welding curriculum for technical schools.
Public service loan forgiveness is another pillar of the revised HEA. The public service loan forgiveness program is already part of the HEA and Kaine hopes it will continue to be part of the HEA after the reauthorization. This effort focuses on alleviating some debt for those students planning to enter public service either locally or nationally. According to Kaine, only $10 million of $700 million were spent in paying a portion of student loans in the public service sector two years ago helping only 250 out of 38,000 students who applied.Kaine also emphasized, “very few have been deemed qualified to get the loan forgiveness by the Department of Education.”
Sexual assault became a focal point during the forum. The current HEA emphasizes many preventative strategies like the Teach Safe Relations Act program for K-12 schools providing a curriculum to students about healthy relationships. This preventative strategy aims to carry into “campus culture and consent” for educated kids to be “thinking right about relationships” because not “everyone has received this from their parents,” Kaine explained.
Moreover, teacher shortages are “especially acute in some areas (like) special education, foreign languages and STEM,” Kaine said.
Kaine hopes the reauthorized HEA will be on the floor of the Senate by the end of July.
After his stop at Virginia Tech, Kaine and his staff traveled to the University of Virginia to achieve the same goal — hear from students.