Higher Education Act of 1965 (Major Acts of Congress)
With the goal of strengthening American colleges and universities, the Higher Education Act of 1965, or HEA, provides financial assistance and other resources for students pursuing postsecondary and higher education. Title I of the act provides funding for extension and continuing education programs. Title II allocates funds to increase library collections and the number of employed qualified librarians. Title III focuses on strengthening "developing institutions" that have not yet met minimum standards for accreditation by means of, for example, faculty exchange programs, joint use of learning facilities, and training programs for developing more capable faculties.
Title IV assists students by supporting undergraduate scholarships, loans with reduced interest rates, and work-study programs. Title V concentrates on improving the quality of teaching (supporting, for example, teacher preparation programs designed to attract recent graduates into the teaching field, and advanced training for experienced teachers). Title VI provides financial assistance to improve undergraduate instruction (by, for example, providing assistance to those institutions that are unable to afford modern teaching materials).
Proponents of the act had voiced concern about the rising costs of college at a time when a college education had clearly become necessary for young adults seeking employment opportunities. Rising costs were especially problematic for students from low- and middle-income families. There was also concern over the lack of adequate staffing in emerging areas of study, such as Latin American and Asian studies, and the need for expanded library collections and more specialized librarians to keep pace with the changing educational environment. The U.S. Commissioner of Education at that time warned that all existing institutions are integral to the country's educational development. He pointed out that allowing only "survival of the fittest" might result in "assembly-line" institutions, thereby decreasing the diversity of fields of study and choices in universities. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed the act on November 8, 1965, at his alma mater, Southwest Texas State College, stated that American universities "can offer expert guidance in community planning; research and development in pressing educational problems; economic and job market studies; continuing education of the community's professional and business leadership; and programs for the disadvantaged."
The act has undergone several amendments since 1965. In 1991 Congress eliminated any statute of limitations for the collection of student loans made under the act (see United States v. Smith, a 1992 Alabama state ruling). As a result of several academic institutions having closed midsemester, the act was modified in 1992 to allow for a number of additional protections for students in such situations. Those attending a school that had suddenly closed its doors could now fully discharge their student loans, as could those students who did not hold a high school diploma but were erroneously assured by the university that they were eligible to begin a course of study. Students were also offered the opportunity to "rehabilitate" their loans in order to remove themselves from default status.
The 1991 amendment also created a Program Integrity Triad, a group composed of accrediting agencies, the states, and the Department of Education, that would be authorized to control access to the financial aid programs. In 1998 the act was reauthorized and amended to include a decrease in student loan interest rates, loan "forgiveness" programs for teachers in inner-city schools, increased Pell Grants, and early intervention programs for eligible low-income students.
The act was preceded by several other laws intended to have a similar impact on higher education. The GI Bill, for example, was designed to make it easier for returning World War II soldiers to obtain a higher education. The National Science Foundation Act and the National Defense Education Act encouraged students to enter the fields of science and mathematics. The Higher Education Facilities Act of 1963 had already attempted to support higher education by authorizing assistance in financing the construction, rehabilitation, or improvement of facilities at undergraduate and graduate institutions.
Since its passage, the act has complemented several other laws. It joins the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in articulating a strong commitment to state and local control over education, and an Office of Migrant Education was established to accomplish goals envisioned by both of these laws. The courts have also construed the HEA in conjunction with other laws. For example, the Federal Debt Collection Procedures Act allows stoppage of wages to repay consumer debt. The courts have ruled that this act must defer to the HEA, which independently allows for stoppage of wages to collect financial aid debt. (See United States v. George ). The act has also been construed so as to not allow the discharge of student loans in bankruptcy proceedings unless the debtor will face undue hardship, defined narrowly.
Benefits under the HEA may only be received by "institutions of higher education," defined as those that admit students holding a high school diploma (or equivalent), are certified to provide higher education pursuant to state regulations, are accredited (or are likely to be accredited) by a nationally recognized accrediting agency, and provide an educational program that awards a bachelor's degree (or have a two-year program that awards credit toward such degree), and qualify as a public or nonprofit institution. Other schools may qualify for benefits if they provide at least a one-year program to prepare students for gainful employment, enjoys status as a public or nonprofit institution, and are properly accredited. The act may also cover a "combination of institutions of higher education," defined as a group of institutions of higher education that have entered into an agreement to carry out a common objective.
See also: ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION ACT OF 1965.