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Blog » What You Need to Know About the HEA

What You Need to Know About the HEA

April 7, 2016

By Pamela Murphy, MSW, AACOM Vice President of Government Relations

Did you know that nearly 65 percent of 2012 graduates who borrowed $50,000 or more were graduate students?


Managing student loan debt after graduation is a tough reality for many graduate and professional students, and it could only get more challenging if federal lawmakers don’t keep students in mind as they negotiate the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA).


President Johnson Signing the Higher Education Act into Law, November 20, 1965

President Johnson Signing the Higher Education Act into Law,
November 20, 1965


The HEA governs federal student financial aid programs. Since being signed into law by President   Lyndon Johnson in 1965, the HEA continues to be reauthorized every few years by Congress, which makes necessary changes to the law. Congress last updated the HEA in 2008. The law expired in 2013, and Congress has since passed several extensions of the current law. Congress is expected to reauthorize the HEA this year or next, and conversations are already progressing on Capitol Hill.

As Congress negotiates the reauthorization of this important legislation, it is vital for lawmakers to not only protect students but also the future health care workforce.  This is particularly important at a time when, simultaneously, the United States confronts a physician workforce shortage stemming from numerous factors, including population growth and aging.  In addition, the number of insured Americans continues to increase by approximately 32 million as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

Below are several things we believe Congress should keep in mind when reauthorizing the law:

Lower interest rates: Without intervention, interest rates on student loans are projected to meet their caps in 7-8 years, nearly doubling the amount of interest a graduate or professional student must pay on their loans. Lowering interest rate caps would help alleviate the significant debt burden many graduate students face after graduation. Congress should also restore the in-school interest rate subsidies on Federal Direct Stafford Loans for graduate students so that interest does not accrue while students are still in school.

Preserve federal financial aid: Maintaining access to federal loan programs, such as GradPLUS and Perkins, for graduate-level students would mitigate financial hardship for many students and ensure that lower-income students, in particular, are able to pursue education in their desired fields. These federal loans are currently available for graduate or professional degree students and parents of dependent undergraduate students for up to the total cost of their education.

Maintain loan repayment and forgiveness programs: Thousands of medical and other graduate and professional students rely on loan repayment and forgiveness programs to help them reduce the heavy burden of their student loans as they give back to their communities. Limiting forgiveness on loans would create a hardship for medical and graduate students and potentially limit access to education for future physicians, furthering the projected health care workforce shortage. According to the AACOM 2014-15 Academic Year Survey of Graduating Seniors Summary, nearly 55 percent of graduating osteopathic medical students expressed their intent to enter the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program after graduation.

Want to make a difference in preserving the federal financial aid programs graduate and professional students depend on? Join ED to MED! ED to MED is a coalition of students, educators, and advocates dedicated to raising the profile of graduate and professional student debt in the halls of Congress.


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