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Issue Brief: The Higher Education Act (HEA)


This legislation, administered by the U. S. Department of Education (ED), authorizes programs and activities most of which fall into four main categories: 1) student financial aid, 2) support services to help students complete high school and enter and succeed in postsecondary education, 3) aid to strengthen institutions, and 4) aid to improve K-12 teacher training at postsecondary institutions. The HEA was last reauthorized by the Higher Education Amendments of 1998.

There are seven titles in the HEA: 

  • Title I - General Provisions 
  • Title II - Teacher Quality Enhancement Grants 
  • Title III - Institutional Aid 
  • Title IV - Student Assistance 
  • Title V - Developing Institutions 
  • Title VI - International Education Programs 
  • Title VII - Graduate and Postsecondary Improvement Programs

Student Aid

At the heart of the HEA are the student aid programs authorized under Title IV that provide grant aid (which does not have to be repaid), loans, and work-study assistance.

The largest Title IV student aid programs are the Pell Grant program, and the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) and Direct Loan (DL) programs. Under each, students receive funds to attend the postsecondary education institutions of their choice. Pell Grants are need-based aid for undergraduate students. FFELs are made by private lenders and are available to undergraduate and graduate students, and their parents. Some kinds of FFELs are need-based, others are not. The DL program provides the same kinds of loans as the FFEL program, but the loan capital is provided directly by the federal government with participating postsecondary institutions or contractors act as loan originators on behalf of the federal government.

Three smaller Title IV student aid programs (Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG), Federal Work-Study, and Federal Perkins Loans) are collectively known as the campus-based programs because their funds are allocated to postsecondary institutions for award to students. Institutions must match a portion of their allocation under each of these programs. Undergraduates can participate in each of these programs, while graduate students are eligible for Work-Study and Perkins Loans.

Among other Title IV student aid programs is the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership (LEAP) program which provides matching funds to states to encourage them to provide need-based state grant programs.

Student Support Services

The HEA's primary programs for student services are the federal TRIO programs and the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), both authorized by HEA Title IV. In general, these programs provide disadvantaged students with support services to help them complete high school, and enter and persist in college. The TRIO programs (so called because there were once just three of them) include Talent Search, Upward Bound, Student Support Services, Educational Opportunity Centers, McNair Postbaccalaureate, and Staff Training. In FY 02, TRIO programs were funded at $802.5 million, while GEAR UP was funded at $285 million.

Institutional Aid

The primary institutional assistance programs are those authorized under Title III and V. Both titles award grants to higher education institutions to strengthen their academic, administrative, and financial capacities. Title III authorizes financial assistance to select groups of institutions, including tribal colleges, Alaska Native-and Native Hawaiian-Serving institutions, and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). It also authorizes support for capital financing of HBCUs, and improvement of science and engineering programs at predominantly minority institutions.

Preservice Teacher Training

HEA Title II authorizes grants for improving teacher education programs, strengthening teacher recruitment efforts, and training prospective teachers to utilize technology. This title also establishes reporting requirements for states and higher education institutions regarding the quality of teacher education programs.