On Thursday, October 31, the College Affordability Act (H.R. 4674) was voted out of the House Education and Labor Committee by a vote of 28-22. It is a comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act that also includes many provisions to remove barriers to higher education for youth experiencing homelessness and youth from foster care, including those in the bipartisan Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act (S.789/H.R. 1724), or HEASHFY. Those provisions include the following:

Financial Aid and Affordability:

  • Streamlines the financial aid process for homeless and foster youth, so that:
    • Unaccompanied homeless youth would not need to have their status re-determined annually
    • More entities could make determinations of an unaccompanied homeless youth’s status
    • Financial aid administrators would be required to make determinations for unaccompanied homeless youth who cannot obtain documentation from third parties (codifying current federal guidance).
  • Establishes a student loan ombudsman to resolve disputes for unaccompanied homeless youth and youth coming from foster care who are denied independent student status.
  • Requires states to grant in-state tuition rates for foster and homeless students who have not had stable residency.

Supportive Services and Housing:

  • Requires the designation of a higher education liaison at institutions of higher education (similar to the K-12 McKinney-Vento liaison) to help youth access and complete higher education by ensuring that youth are connected to applicable and available student support services, programs, and community resources.
  • Requires a plan for accessing housing during breaks and during the semester, and gives priority to homeless and foster youth for institutionally-owned housing.

Outreach, Awareness, and College Access:

  • Requires that institutions of higher education disseminate public notice of FAFSA policies for unaccompanied homeless youth and youth in or coming from foster care.
  • Requires that admissions applications provide youth the opportunity to identify as homeless or foster youth for the purposes of being provided information about financial aid and student support services.
  • Ensures that college access programs collaborate with child welfare agencies, homeless service providers, and school district homeless liaisons to identify, conduct outreach to, and recruit homeless and foster youth.
  • Requires the Secretary of Education to issue guidance, provide annual professional development opportunities, and issue a report at least once every five years on best practices for serving homeless and foster youth and youth.

In addition to the provisions from HEASHFY listed above, the College Affordability Act also includes the provisions from the Fostering Success in Higher Education Act, (H.R. 2966/S. 1650). This legislation establishes a new program with an authorized funding level of $150 million per year to help states, tribes, and territories establish or expand initiatives that help foster and homeless youth successfully transition to college. States participating in the grant program would also award funding to institutions to improve the financial aid and wrap-around services available to these students once they enroll in college.

What About the Senate?

Thus far, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP) has not taken up comprehensive higher education legislation. Instead, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the Chair of the HELP Committee, has favored a more limited approach to HEA reauthorization. Many bills have been introduced and are under consideration, including HEASHFY, S. 789.

On October 22, Senator Alexander and Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) introduced the FAFSA Simplification Act (S. 2667) which includes a number of provisions to remove barriers to financial aid for homeless and foster youth, including eliminating the current law requirement for unaccompanied homeless youth status to have their status re-determined annually, and allowing for a broader range of entities to make determinations of unaccompanied homeless youth status.

Call to Action:

While the path to a final HEA reauthorization is unclear, it is encouraging that bipartisan bills in both the House and Senate respond to the unique barriers that homeless and foster youth face in pursuing higher education.

We urge readers to continue to ask their Members of Congress to cosponsor the bipartisan Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act, HEASHFY (S.789/H.R. 1724). The greater the number of cosponsors, the more likely leadership of both chambers will include HEASHFY’s protections in any reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. 

Please take one minute to help homeless and foster youth realize their dreams and achieve economic independence through higher education.

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