The Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA)

What Is the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA)?

The Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA) is a law designed to provide financial assistance to post-secondary students and to strengthen the educational resources of the colleges and universities of the United States.

The HEA, as it is commonly known, increased the amount of federal money given to post-secondary institutions, developed scholarship programs, provided low-interest loans to students, and founded the National Teachers Corps.

Part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society domestic agenda, the act was signed into law on Nov. 8, 1965, and has been reauthorized by Congress a number of times since.

The act expired in 2013 and Congress has been unable to reach an agreement on its reauthorization. However, it has been running on temporary extensions since then, with now-familiar programs including Pell Grants and Stafford loans remaining available.

Key Takeaways

  • The Higher Education Act of 1965, or HEA, has failed to gain Congressional reauthorization since 2013 but continues to operate on temporary extensions.
  • The HEA provides financial assistance to college students, including subsidized grants and loans to qualified post-secondary students.
  • Pell Grants and Stafford Loans are among the programs created through the HEA.
  • The HEA also directly funds college continuing education programs, school libraries, and teaching resources.

Understanding the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA)

President Johnson advocated the passage of the Higher Education Act with the stated goals of increasing educational opportunities for the children of lower- and middle-income families, bolstering cash-strapped small colleges, and improving library resources at higher education institutions.

On the 50th anniversary of its passage, in 2015, the National Education Association (NEA) lauded the program for making a college education affordable to "millions of smart, low- and middle-income Americans by establishing need-based grants, work-study opportunities, and federal student loans." It also enabled the establishment of a program called TRIO, which assists educational programs designed to reach low-income and disadvantaged students from middle school through graduate school.

Titles of the HEA

The act has the following titles:

Title I: Provides funding for extension and continuing education programs.
Title II: Allocates money to enhance library collections.
Title III: Contains provisions for strengthening developing institutions.
Title IV: Provides student assistance through scholarships, low-interest loans, and work-study programs.
Title V: Contains provisions for improving the quality of teaching.
Title VI: Contains provisions for improving undergraduate instruction.

The Higher Education Act of 1965 has undergone multiple reauthorizations and amendments, including the addition of new title initiatives.

$1.7 Trillion

The total amount of student debt owed by Americans. Pell Grants once covered about 80% of college tuition. That's down to less than 29% in the 2021-2022 school year.

What the HEA Provides

The HEA established a variety of financial aid options for students attending secondary schools in the U.S. Financial assistance programs including Pell Grants and Stafford loans were created as a direct result of this legislation.

Pell Grants, which do not need to be repaid, come from federal funding and are available to undergraduate students. The amount offered under the grants is based on financial need, the cost of the school, and the students’ standing for full-time or part-time attendance. There is a maximum amount of funding per recipient, which is set by the legislation that reauthorizes the grant program.

So-called Stafford loans, which can be direct subsidized or direct unsubsidized loans, are offered to students in need of financial assistance. For direct subsidized loans, which are available to undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need, the amount of the loan is determined by the costs of the school they are attending.

The interest on such loans is paid by the U.S. Department of Education as long as the student remains enrolled at least halftime in college. The interest is also covered for six months after they leave school.

Direct unsubsidized loans do not have financial need requirements and are available to graduate students as well as undergraduates. The college or university will determine the size of the loan in relation to other financial assistance that was received.

The borrower is responsible for repaying all of the interest on this type of loan.

Technically, "Stafford Loans" don't exist anymore, as the term refers to a subsidized or unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loan that students could apply for in the past if they went to schools that participated in the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program. No loans have been made under that program since July 1, 2010. But the terms "Stafford Loans" and "Direct Stafford Loans" are still used by many schools and individuals to refer to direct subsidized loans and direct unsubsidized loans made under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program.

Beware Student Loan Scams

If you have student loans, beware of offers of a "pandemic grant" or "Biden loan forgiveness." The U.S. Department of Education offers tips for avoiding and reporting these and other scams.

HEA Reauthorization Attempts

The HEA was reauthorized every five years from its initial passage in 1965 until 2008, frequently with amendments added to it. It has failed to gain formal reauthorization since 2013 but its programs have continued to operate on temporary extensions since then.

Current Status of the HEA

The HEA technically expired at the end of 2013, although its programs were allowed to continue to operate as Congress debated proposed changes to it.

A reauthorization and update of the HEA were reported to be nearing an agreement between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic placed discussions on it and many other matters on hold.

Proposed changes that are still on the table include a simplified student aid application process and an increase in the maximum size of Pell Grants.

How Did the HEA Contribute to Post-Secondary Education?

The National Education Association calls the HEA "the cornerstone of college affordability" for Americans. About 34% of American college undergraduates are now receiving Pell Grants to help pay for their education. More than 33 million Americans have received Stafford loans.

What Is Title IV of the HEA?

Title IV is the section of the HEA that authorizes and funds scholarships, low-interest loans, and work-study programs for students at eligible colleges and universities. Its best-known programs include Pell Grants and Stafford loans.

What Type of School Does the Term Higher Education Refer to?

The term "higher education" refers to a course of study beyond the high school level, leading to the award of a degree, diploma, or certificate. This definition can encompass studies at a college or university or a professional or technical school.

What Is a Title I School?

In the context of the Higher Education Act, a Title 1 school is a post-secondary institution of higher learning that has been approved to receive direct federal assistance to enhance its library or strengthen its programs or is approved to accept students whose tuition is subsidized by the HEA.

It should not be confused with another Title 1, which is a key part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. That Title 1 is a federal program that supplements state and local funding for public schools in economically disadvantaged areas of the U.S.

The Bottom Line

Today's students were not born or even thought of when the Higher Education Act was first passed in 1965. But its core concept, making a college education accessible to Americans of modest means, has stood the test of time.

Article Sources
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  2. University of Wisconsin. "The Higher Education Act (HEA): A Primer," Page 1.

  3. LBJ Presidential Library. "Higher Education Act."

  4. Rancho Santiago Community College District. "2019 Federal Legislative Priorities," Page 2.

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  6. The Pell Institute. "Do You Know TRIO? A Trio History Fact Sheet."

  7. National Education Association. "At 50, Higher Education Act Remains the Cornerstone of College Affordability."

  8. Federation of American Scientists. "The Higher Education Act (HEA): A Primer."

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  10. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, FRED. "Student Loans Owned and Securitized."

  11. EveryCRSReport. "Federal Pell Grant Program of the Higher Education Act: Primer," Page 1-2.

  12. U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid. "The U.S. Department of Education Offers Low-Interest Loans to Eligible Students to Help Cover the Cost of College or Career School."

  13. Federal Student Aid. "Stafford Loans."

  14. U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid. "Avoiding Student Aid Scams."

  15. The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. "Higher Education Act."

  16. National Center for Education Statistics. "Trend Generator."

  17. Sallie Mae. "What is a Federal Stafford Loan? Everything You Need to Know."

  18. Federation of American Scientists. "The Higher Education Act (HEA): A Primer," Page 1.

  19. U.S. Department of Education. "Parents / Prepare My Child for School."

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