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NEA president on Higher Education Act at 50: let’s reclaim its promise as a public good

NEA marks milestone with release of joint recommendations for HEA reauthorization

WASHINGTON - November 06, 2015 -

On November 8, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Higher Education Act (HEA), a cornerstone of his Great Society programs, along with the Civil Rights Act, Medicare and Medicaid, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. HEA opened the doors to college for millions of smart, low- and middle-income Americans by establishing need-based grants, work-study opportunities, and federal student loans. It also created outreach programs, such as TRIO, for the nation’s poorest students.

The National Education Association is marking the 50th anniversary of HEA by issuing a call to policymakers in the run-up to its reauthorization to reclaim its original promise as a public good as well as releasing joint recommendations for rewriting HEA.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García also issued the following statement:

“The success of the Higher Education Act in enabling literally millions of students like me to attend college and university has transformed this country for the better, and has helped create a fundamentally more equitable and creative society.

“As we mark the 50th anniversary of the HEA, we must reclaim its original promise —creating a real opportunity for students to graduate from high-quality institutions of higher education without burdensome debt.

“I was born one year after the Supreme Court of the United States issued its landmark Brown v. Board of Education opinion. Nearly 10 years later, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law key cornerstones of his War on Poverty programs, including the Higher Education Act.

“I am a teacher today because my country invested in me. I attended the University of Utah thanks to a National Direct Student Loan. I left university with little debt, and I paid it back in less than 10 years. My country understood that with an investment in my adult education, I would take care of myself later in life, my family and participate as an engaged member of society.

“Unfortunately today, despite the fact that children will need to have some level of higher education, such as trade school, community college, or university, to live the middle-class life that their parents might have reached with a high school education, college is not affordable for too many middle-class families. Access to higher education is becoming a possibility for the lucky few, rather than a certainty. Affordable college should not be a luxury. It’s the foundation of a thriving middle-class.

“I believe that higher education is a public good, and one that must provide a 21st Century education for all students, whatever their goals and dreams may be. It is critical that any changes to the Higher Education Act protect the interests of students, faculty and staff.”

NEA and partners issue joint recommendations for HEA reauthorization
This fall, NEA, along with its union partners, the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors, together representing more than 350,000 higher-education staff and faculty, issued joint recommendations for the reauthorization of HEA. These are framed by the realization that higher education is a public good, and it must provide a 21st-century education to its students. These recommendations also acknowledge public investment in higher education is severely lacking.

Click here to view the full list of recommendations.

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The National Education Association is the nation's largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers. Learn more at

CONTACT:  Miguel A. Gonzalez