The Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform, or PROSPER Act, was introduced into the House of Representatives on December 1, 2017. It effectively revises and reauthorizes the Higher Education Act of 1965, most recently reauthorized in 2008. Introduced by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC 5th District), the bill makes a variety of changes to the way the federal government will support students of higher education. The Higher Education Act has been amended and reauthorized several times in the past, most famously in 1972 when Title IX was passed into law.

The bill states in its description that it was written to “support students in completing an affordable postsecondary education that will prepare them to enter the workforce with the skills they need for lifelong success.” However, media outlets and Bates students have expressed their doubts about several of the bill’s provisions. For example, it consolidates Stafford and PLUS loans into a new Federal ONE loan. Furthermore, all Federal ONE loans are unsubsidized by the government. The bill also eliminates all federal grant programs, except for the Pell Grant. It also allows the privatization of management of this debt, something that has some students worried.

Furthermore, the bill would eliminate a program called Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), where student loans can be forgiven through working full time for a qualifying public service employer. Loans taken out until 2019 would be eligible to participate in this program, but PSLF will be eliminated alongside the Stafford and PLUS loans in that same year. Where this bill would not affect the status of loans for any student currently in college, class years soon will no longer be eligible for subsidized loans or for PSLF. These proposals represent a significant change to the way the federal government provides financial assistance to college students. Where spokespeople for the bill say it will streamline the process to receive financial aid and simplify a currently complex system, critics express concerns that the bill could make it easier for private entities to capitalize on student debt.

I spoke with Maddy Smith ’20 and Will Hibbitts ’21, who were organizing a campaign to lobby Susan Collins to vote against the bill if it passes in the House and moves to the Senate.

Smith described how they’re passionate about the bill “because it affects so many students at Bates.” “This will affect working people and their children the most,” Smith said “the student debt crisis is already a major issue for our generation, and it’s about to get a whole lot worse.” Hibbitts expressed his concern that “if we get rid of subsidized student loans, then working young people won’t have the ability to attend institutions such as Bates College.”

The bill was ordered to be amended on December 13, 2017, and has yet to reappear in the house. Contact Maddy Smith at msmith3@bates.edu for more information on how you can get involved, or call Susan Collins at 207-784-6969.