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Get the Facts on HEA: FAQs

As Congress negotiates updates to the Higher Education Act, we’ve compiled several of the most frequently asked questions about how HEA reauthorization impacts medical and other graduate and professional students. Don’t see your question below? Contact us at

What is the Higher Education Act?
The Higher Education Act (HEA) governs student federal financial aid. President Lyndon Johnson signed the HEA into law on November 8, 1965, as a part of his “Great Society” agenda. HEA continues to be reauthorized every few years by Congress, which makes necessary changes and updates to the law. Congress last updated the HEA in 2008. The law expired in 2013, and Congress has passed several extensions of the current law; however, it needs to be reauthorized.
What programs are included in the Higher Education Act that impact graduate and professional students?
HEA includes federal financial aid programs that assist graduate and professional students in attaining their advanced degree. Some of these programs include Direct Graduate PLUS Loans and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program.
What are Direct Graduate PLUS Loans?
Direct Graduate PLUS (GradPLUS) Loans are low-interest federal loans available to graduate and professional students for up to the total cost of their education. Currently, students who need more than $20,500 in any one academic year may borrow GradPLUS Loans to help cover any remaining educational expenses.
What loan forgiveness programs exist for graduate students interested in public service?
The PSLF Program forgives students the remaining balance on their loans after 10 years of public service. The PSLF Program incentivizes physicians, health care professionals, and other professionals to work full-time in public service by providing them financial support through income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness.
Is funding for these important federal financial aid programs at risk?
Yes. In recent years, there has been a trend toward cutting or eliminating some federal financial aid programs which medical and other graduate and professional students rely on. Programs for graduate students have been disproportionately targeted.  For example, the Budget Control Act of 2011 eliminated the in-school interest subsidy on Federal Stafford Loans for graduate students. As a result, medical students are now being charged interest on their student loans while they are still in school, significantly increasing the amount that students will owe on graduation day.
Are there other policy issues being considered that could impact my osteopathic medical education?
The reauthorization of the HEA is an opportunity for Congress to address burdensome regulatory barriers for osteopathic medical schools and their students. For example, the state authorization provisions implemented by the U.S. Department of Education in 2015 have created an undue financial hardship and administration burden for many osteopathic medical school’s out-of-state clinical rotation sites.
What can I do to make my voice heard on these important policy decisions?
Join ED to MED, a coalition of students, educators, and advocates dedicated to raising the profile of graduate and professional student debt issues in the halls of Congress. Once you join ED to MED, here’s just a sample of the ways you can make a difference:
  • Share ED to MED materials
  • Send messages to your elected officials
  • Educate your friends, classmates, and colleagues on the importance of getting involved
  • And more…