The Hope Center’s 2024 Federal Policy Priorities

May 13, 2024

Federal policymakers must commit to investing much more in the success of students in higher education to fulfill the promise of a prosperous, equitable, and healthy society and economy. Over the past several years, students, families, and colleges and universities have all experienced tremendous upheaval. A global pandemic and economic crisis severely disrupted college enrollment and stretched families’ budgets. A perfect storm of rising tuition combined with increased costs of living and everyday expenses has made college substantially less affordable. Timely federal actions temporarily shored up family finances, expanded access to public benefits, and provided emergency cash assistance to millions during the pandemic, but these efforts have since expired.

Unlike much of the economy and labor market today, higher education has not recovered; as of the fall of 2023, undergraduate enrollment remains down by more than 760,000 students compared to the fall before the pandemic, threatening both the vitality of our workforce and colleges’ bottom lines.

Now more than ever, our leaders must take bold action to ensure that all students enrolled in higher education can succeed. To do so, we need to build a system that guarantees students can finally meet their basic needs and afford the full cost of their degree program.

There is substantial work ahead. Today, higher education remains out of reach for millions of families due to rising prices and debt, insufficient financial aid, low wages, and a racial wealth gap in which the typical White household has $6 in unearned wealth for every $1 in Black wealth, and where White households in which the head did not go to college have more wealth than Black households with a bachelor's degree. These pressures have created disproportionate and persistent structural disadvantages for Black and Brown students, Indigenous students, immigrants, LGBTQ+ students, and students with low incomes. 

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Source: The Hope Center analysis of U.S. Department of Education data, 2023

Millions of students today do not have enough to eat or a stable and affordable place to live, and many more must contend with the high price of child care, transportation, health care, technology, books, and more. New nationally representative data from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) indicate that nearly one in four undergraduate students are experiencing food insecurity—twice the rate of all other households—and almost one in ten are experiencing homelessness. Graduate and professional students are also struggling at significant rates. The Hope Center’s research shows that three in five students struggle to find enough to eat or a safe place to live, with far higher rates of basic needs insecurity for Black, Native, and Indigenous students, parenting students, LGBTQ+ students, and other groups of students that are systemically marginalized. 

We are also in the middle of a youth and campus mental health crisis. Surveys show that nearly half of all students are struggling with clinically significant depression or anxiety—but fewer than half of these students are getting any treatment. Policymakers must realize that basic needs insecurity directly leads to mental health challenges and take steps to alleviate these stressors before they throw students off track. Students cannot be expected to adequately focus on earning a degree or credential if they are worried about where their next meal will come from, if they can afford rent or essential utilities, if they cannot address their physical and mental health, or whether they have access to child care.

Rather than helping students defray these costs and providing the resources they need, our nation’s financial aid and safety net programs provide insufficient support and even create additional burdens for students who need support to stay enrolled. The purchasing power of federal financial aid has reached record lows: the Pell Grant now covers barely a quarter of the cost of attending an in-state public four-year college. There remains no sustained check on states disinvesting from their public colleges and universities (a trend which has resumed now that the pandemic-era infusions of federal cash are gone) and, for decades, this pattern has led to increased costs placed on the backs of students and families. Public benefit programs, which support many families experiencing poverty, job loss, and food and housing insecurity, often contain specific rules that shut out most students experiencing basic needs insecurity through complex, outdated, and short-sighted eligibility rules and work requirements. 

Beginning in 2020, federal policymakers responded to a public health and economic crisis with a series of measures, lasting broadly through mid-2023, that provided unprecedented support for students and families, including tens of billions of dollars in emergency aid for students, eligibility expansions for food assistance, a pause on student loan payments, targeted student debt relief, and expansions of programs like the Child Tax Credit (CTC), all of which led to a dramatic one-time reduction in poverty. Unfortunately, nearly all of these programs have expired, leaving families fending for themselves when many require more, not less, support.

There is still a roadmap for an equitable and humane higher education system and a safety net that promotes postsecondary attainment. The Hope Center is proud to release our federal policy priorities for 2024 to help shape the road ahead. We call for:

  • major reforms to financial aid and public benefits to focus on students’ basic needs
  • substantial investments in programs that will guarantee college affordability,
  • significant increases in federal funding for public institutions and grant programs that support students’ basic needs,
  • better outreach to students about available resources, and
  • more equitable design and implementation of federal financial aid programs.
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Priorities for the 118th Congress in 2024

The following priorities for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in 2024 include both authorizing and appropriations requests.


Funding Federal Programs to Support Student Basic Needs Security: Hope’s FY25 Appropriations Priorities

The Hope Center has shared our Fiscal Year 2025 appropriations priorities with Members of Congress. Specifically, we call for increases to programs that fund holistic solutions to the basic needs crisis, including the Basic Needs for Postsecondary Students (“Basic Needs Grant”) program, Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program, and Garrett Lee Smith (GLS) Campus Suicide Prevention Grant. Each of these programs is discussed in greater detail below. We encourage all Members of Congress to use these priorities to guide their own programmatic appropriations requests.

We also ask for Congress to restore flexibility for the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) to operate as emergency aid and permit greater FAFSA data-sharing to connect students with public and tax benefits, through language in the appropriations bills—topics which are discussed in greater detail below.

Remove student barriers to SNAP in the Farm Bill.

Nationally representative data reveal that 4.3 million students, including nearly one in four (23%) undergraduate college students, report low or very low levels of food security, with particularly high rates at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and community colleges. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is our country’s largest anti-hunger program, and it has proven successful and durable in reducing household food insecurity.

Yet due to an incredibly complex and counterproductive set of eligibility requirements, very few students who experience food insecurity and are likely eligible for SNAP can enroll. The Hope Center estimates that fewer than one in five (18%) students who report experiencing basic needs insecurity are enrolled in SNAP, and the Government Accountability Office estimates that 57% of students who are likely food insecure and income-eligible for SNAP are not enrolled in the program. The SNAP program’s dizzying maze of student rules creates significant administrative burdens, confuses students and staff, worsens food insecurity, and undermines the country’s workforce development efforts. Right now, most students with low incomes are only able to get around SNAP’s onerous eligibility restrictions by meeting one of a series of convoluted exemptions, most commonly through working 20-hours per week on top of their coursework. These are rules that Congressional leaders and Biden Administration have acknowledged are “out of date.” Other exemptions, including three separate exemptions for parenting students depending on the age of their dependents or ability to access child care, make the program incredibly complex to administer. As Congress works to reauthorize the Farm Bill in 2024, it must seize the opportunity to remove barriers to SNAP for college students. 

Congress should overhaul and simplify SNAP eligibility rules, including removing the work requirement for students in higher education, and ensure that all students with low incomes (who are at high risk of food insecurity) are able to seamlessly qualify for benefits. During the pandemic, Congress recognized, on a bipartisan basis, the need to expand and simplify eligibility for SNAP through flexibilities under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA), which temporarily waived work requirements for students who had a $0 “Expected Family Contribution,” or EFC (now “Student Aid Index,” or SAI) or were eligible for work-study, thereby allowing up to 3 million students with low incomes and their children or households to receive up to $700 per month for food. These flexibilities expired in June 2023, along with emergency allotments that boosted SNAP benefits. Congress must work to permanently simplify and expand eligibility for SNAP while also protecting the program from any damaging cuts that could exacerbate food insecurity among the students who have managed to obtain benefits.

The Enhance Access to SNAP (EATS) Act and Student Food Security Act serve as models for streamlining eligibility and providing essential SNAP flexibility for students. Additionally, the Farm Bill should promote access to nutritious meals to students who are already at risk of food insecurity, including expanding options for students to use SNAP benefits on campus. The Food for Thought Act would create a pilot within the National School Lunch Program to allow community colleges to serve free or low-cost meals to students. 

Revive federal funding for emergency aid. 

Over the course of two years during the height of the pandemic, Congress on a bipartisan basis provided nearly $40 billion for “emergency aid” for students to help them survive and stay enrolled in college. These grants were essential to helping students meet their basic needs. More than three in five recipients say they used emergency funds to purchase food, and around half of students used these funds for housing. Studies show that students who received emergency aid persisted and graduated at higher rates compared to students who were unable to access the funds.

Congress also temporarily removed restrictions on campus-based aid, specifically the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) program, to allow SEOG to function as emergency aid. Through these SEOG flexibilities, institutions could hold a portion of funds to give to students who face unexpected expenses that may otherwise force them to drop out. Unfortunately, this flexibility expired in June 2023 at the end of the public health emergency. And, direct federal funding for emergency aid grant funds have been exhausted, leaving many students once again unable to cover unexpected expenses.

To meet the urgent needs of students and improve student success, Congress should act swiftly to restore the SEOG flexibility—allowing this existing grant program to fulfill a successful, evidence-based practice, and at no cost to the federal budget.

Congress could also look to the Emergency Grant Aid for College Students Act, which would establish a permanent emergency aid program for students.

In addition, the campus-based aid programs also need an overhaul. FWS can be improved to better incentivize community service activities that reduce basic needs insecurity, such as working in peer support roles at on-campus basic needs hubs or food pantries. And, Congress should reform the inequitable allocation formula for SEOG and FWS to support the colleges where students with low incomes enroll. 

Expand comprehensive approaches to basic needs security.

There is growing evidence that comprehensive approaches to addressing student basic needs insecurity are the most promising for student success. While more siloed efforts to provide direct services at the institutional level, such as food pantries and transportation subsidies, are often vital, students who experience basic needs insecurity are usually experiencing multiple interrelated financial challenges. Federal grants should incentivize colleges to leverage public benefits, tax benefits, and community resources to assist students and to take steps to centralize these resources into one accessible location for students (e.g. basic needs hubs or one-stop centers) just as several states (e.g. California, Illinois, and Oregon) have mandated for their public colleges.  

For example, Congress should substantially increase funding for the Basic Needs for Postsecondary Students Program (“Basic Needs Grants”), which provides competitive funding for under-resourced institutions, including community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) to implement systemic interventions to support basic needs insecurity, including connecting students with public and tax benefits programs for which they may be eligible and surveying the needs of students on campus. This program has been funded for three consecutive years, but Congress should also pass the BASIC Act to codify the Basic Needs Grant program for colleges and ensure its continued success.  

Address the crisis of mental health on college campuses.

On campuses across the country, mental and behavioral health challenges are persistent and have reached crisis levels. Mental health challenges do not exist in isolation: any solutions must address the close link between mental and behavioral health challenges and financial or material basic needs insecurity. Studies show that students experiencing inadequate nutrition, hunger, food insecurity, or other challenges related to poverty may experience higher rates of anxiety, stress, and depression. At the same time, mental health challenges that go untreated can result in students experiencing basic needs insecurity while enrolled in school. According to the 2022-23 Healthy Minds Survey, four in ten (41%) college students are struggling with clinically significant depression, and over one in three (36%) experience anxiety, but only 46% of students with positive depression or anxiety screens have had mental health counseling and/or therapy in the past year. While the pandemic worsened these trends, students were already struggling with escalating mental and behavioral health issues, undoubtedly—at least in part—caused by and resulting in basic needs insecurity. According to a 2022 survey on the mental health crisis in higher education by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation, more than 40% of students currently enrolled in an undergraduate degree program had considered dropping out in the past six months, with emotional stress and mental health challenges cited more than any other reason.

Congress should create a large new federal program capable of meeting the severe needs of students in higher education and prevent student mental health challenges, including anxiety, depression, and suicide. Funding of $13.8 billion over 10 years would help to meet this need.

Alternatively, Congress could robustly fund and update the Garrett Lee Smith (GLS) Campus Suicide Prevention Grant program within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the only federal program currently available to directly support college students’ mental and behavioral health services. However, the program’s anemic funding of less than $8.5 million per fiscal year means it can only reach a few dozen institutions each funding cycle, out of nearly 3,600 public and private nonprofit institutions nationwide.

We applaud SAMHSA for removing barriers to participation for under-resourced institutions in GLS in the 2024 grant cycle, including a waiver that certain institutions do not need to meet an onerous matching requirement, and we encourage Congress to codify this change permanently. In addition, Congress should update the Higher Education Act (HEA) to require colleges to provide information to their students on affordable mental health resources and refer struggling students to public benefits to help them address contributing factors to their mental health. 

Create a federal-state partnership that builds toward tuition- and debt-free public college.

To guarantee college affordability for the next generation, Congress should create a federal partnership with states to waive tuition and fees at public colleges and universities—starting with community colleges, HBCUs, TCUs, and other MSIs—and work to ensure that students and families are not forced into crushing debt due to non-tuition expenses. Any federal-state partnership must encourage states to prioritize and invest in public higher education and need-based financial aid, even and especially during economic downturns. The Debt-Free College ActAmerica’s College Promise Act, and the College for All Act serve as important models to achieve this goal. 

Funding to states or institutions should use formulas that prioritize part-time students. Federal funding formulas have often relied on full-time equivalent (FTE) enrollment, which inaccurately assumes that part-time students require fewer resources to educate or that they require lower levels of basic needs support. Congress should ensure that direct funding to states or institutions uses a formula based on total headcount, and not FTEs, to reduce inequities for students and colleges. 

Finally, as discussed below, Congress should avoid replicating inequitable and harmful Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) requirements in any free or debt-free college proposal.

Support parenting students through affordable on-campus child care.

Nearly one in five undergraduates, and more than one in four graduate and professional students, are raising children while enrolled in college. These 4.1 million parenting students experience basic needs insecurity at substantially higher rates than non-parenting students, and parents of color struggle even more. Parenting students routinely report that finding affordable, high-quality, and convenient child care is among their largest barriers to enrolling and succeeding in college.

Congress should dramatically increase funding for programs like Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS)—the only federal program dedicated to helping parenting students. While we laud increases in federal funding for the program since 2018, it remains funded far below the amount to support parenting students, and the number of colleges with on-campus child care facilities has declined by double digits over the last two decades. Congress should also pass the CCAMPIS Reauthorization Act, which would help federal investments reach more parenting students and improve wrap-around services.

Congress should also reinstate the successful monthly and expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC), which dramatically reduced child poverty before it was allowed to expire. Many parenting students benefitted from the financial support of the expanded CTC, lowering food insecurity for themselves and their children and allowing them to seek education and training opportunities. Congress should require colleges and states to identify and track student-level outcomes for parenting students, such as through th Understanding Student Parent Outcomes Act, and to conduct outreach to parenting students about the existing CTC to boost take-up rates and support their child care expenses.

Finally, Congress should remove the substantial restrictions for students in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, such as work requirements, time limits, and program-of-study limitations, which all limit the pursuit of education that leads to family-supporting jobs. The Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) should be updated to ensure that all states provide parenting students with low incomes access to subsidies to afford child care.

Continue to simplify and expand access to federal financial aid.

To streamline the federal financial aid process, Congress passed the bipartisan Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education (FUTURE) Act in 2019 and the FAFSA Simplification Act in 2020. Together, these laws have the potential to dramatically simplify the ability for students to obtain federal, state, and institutional grants, loans, and scholarships—particularly for the students who disproportionately experience basic needs. This year (2024-25), an additional 665,000 students will become eligible for Pell Grants and 1.7 million will see increases in their aid awards.

However, numerous delays and errors in the implementation of this financial aid overhaul starting in fall 2023 have threatened students’ access to aid, disrupted their financial aid offers, and delayed their ability to plan for their basic needs. Still, the overhaul holds promise for many marginalized groups, including students not in contact with their parents, students experiencing homelessness, former foster youth, and single parenting students. Congress should conduct rigorous oversight of the implementation of the FUTURE Act and FAFSA Simplification Act to ensure the benefits are fully realized for students.

Additionally, Congress should continue to remove eligibility restrictions from financial aid programs by allowing students and families who receive means-tested benefits to automatically qualify for the maximum Pell Grant and make undocumented students, including Dreamers, eligible for federal financial aid. Congress should pass the Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Act to substantially increase the maximum Pell Grant, allow students more time to use their federal aid, and reform inequitable Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) policies that exacerbate basic needs insecurity and take away aid from students when they often need it the most. It is also critical to robustly fund the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid so that they have the resources they need to improve customer support and outreach to students about financial aid. 

End the taxation of Pell Grants and other aid.

Today, non-tuition expenses like food, housing, transportation make up the majority of the cost of attendance of both two- and four-year public colleges. Yet, students who receive Pell Grants or any other grants or scholarships are taxed on the amount of that financial aid they apply toward necessities like food and housing—often triggering a surprise tax bill. This bad tax policy is particularly harmful to community college students, where 80% of the price of attendance is from non-tuition sources and where students’ unmet need is often high. Approximately three million students now have their grants and scholarships taxed each year. Congress should pass the Tax-Free Pell Grant Act to provide relief to working students with low and middle incomes and allow them to keep more of the aid they need to succeed in higher education.

Congress should also remove tax liability from state and institutional financial aid, scholarships, and any other grant aid. Further, Congress should introduce legislation to consolidate, reform, and enhance education tax benefits like the American Opportunity Tax Credit and Lifetime Learning Credit, the full benefit of which are unable to be claimed by low-income households and disproportionately favor wealthier tax filers. The American Opportunity Student Tax Relief Act serves as one model.

Reduce housing insecurity and homelessness for students.

Housing is often the largest non-tuition expense facing students and families, and housing policy continues to exacerbate the racial wealth gap. Students are often subject to severe restrictions that limit them from housing assistance. Since 2005, U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) public and assisted housing programs and the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) have had severe restrictions that prevent nearly all college students under age 24 from receiving support because of the false and outdated assumption that all college students have access to on-campus housing or are otherwise financially supported by their family. Congress should remove a damaging rider in the HUD bill which denies access to students. Congress should pass the Housing for Homeless Students Act, which would allow students to live in LIHTC housing if they’ve experienced homelessness within the last seven years. 

Additionally, financial aid received by students for non-tuition costs is generally counted as “income” for determining a family’s HUD program eligibility, which significantly and unfairly disincentivizes students in supported families from seeking higher education. Congress should remove these restrictions in HUD programs and exclude all financial aid from being counted as income. 

Students experiencing homelessness or students at risk of becoming homeless are more likely to stop out of college. Former foster youth also struggle to afford college without family resources, with as few as 14% of former foster youth being able to complete college. Congress should pass the Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act and Fostering Success in Higher Education Act to simplify the financial aid process for these students and ensure they receive in-state tuition. Congress should also revive funding for emergency rental assistance through the appropriations process, modeled off the Treasury Department’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).

Bring back the Affordable Connectivity Program.

Students need access to reliable and affordable internet in order to complete their coursework, take classes, and succeed in their degree program. During the public health emergency, Congress recognized, on a bipartisan basis, the importance of affordable broadband access to students and families and created the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which provided 23 million low-income people—including over one million students who receive Pell grants—with substantial discounts off of their monthly internet bill.

In the FY2024 appropriations process, Congress failed to provide additional funding for the ACP, which will result in higher bills and less access to this crucial public utility. Congress should act quickly to restore funding for ACP and extend the program as suggested by the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act.

White House

Priorities for the Biden-Harris Administration in 2024

The following priorities are applicable to federal agencies and the White House. 

Notify students about public and tax benefits on a regular basis.

Public and tax benefits like SNAP, Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit could provide students with thousands of dollars to support their basic needs security—but recent data suggest that very few colleges are conducting any outreach about public benefits. The Administration should establish data-sharing agreements between the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and all federal agencies that administer public benefits programs to automatically and regularly identify students who could be eligible for support. The FAFSA Simplification Act authorizes these data-sharing agreements but the Administration’s FY 2025 budget request indicates they have not yet been executed. The data-sharing procedures should also be codified in regulation. 

ED has released guidance for both state grant agencies and institutions of higher education on conducting voluntary targeted outreach to students about public and tax benefits to help them enroll in these valuable sources of financial support. We encourage ED to work with states and institutions to issue additional guidance in 2024 that clarifies the procedures for award year 2024-25 and beyond and to share best practices for coordinated and effective outreach strategies. Additionally, ED should proactively, automatically, and regularly notify all students applying for federal financial aid of their potential eligibility for public benefits programs, as the FAFSA Simplification Act authorizes. 

Ensure “cost of attendance” estimates help students afford college expenses.

Each institution of higher education calculates their own “sticker price” of attending a single year of college, known as “cost of attendance” (COA) estimates. These estimates include far more than required tuition and fees—incorporating major basic needs like food, housing, books, child care, and transportation. It is crucial to ensure that institutions accurately calculate and communicate their COA as these estimates help students and families manage and prepare for the high price of college. The COA also plays a major role in determining the amount of financial aid students can receive to afford college costs.

The FAFSA Simplification Act removed legal prohibitions on ED regulating non-tuition costs, thereby providing the legal authority for the agency to issue regulations on COA’s basic needs elements, such as housing and food. ED should establish regulations which require institutions to provide transparent, reliable, and data-driven estimates on, for housing and food.

While pursuing durable regulations, ED should also swiftly issue guidance to encourage colleges to maintain reliable estimates of food, housing, textbooks, child care, and other costs. Research has shown a troubling, and often inexplicable, variation in how institutions estimate living costs—including examples of significant “under counting”—which can significantly limit students’ eligibility for need-based aid and make colleges appear cheaper than they really are. Widespread underestimation of costs can also force students to borrow more risky private loans to pay for school, or worse, drop out due to not having the financing to pay.

It is also essential to ensure that the new negative Student Aid Index (SAI) can be used to leverage additional federal, state, and institutional aid for students most in need of support. Packaging rules should never restrict aid to the published COA when many students—and particularly students with the lowest incomes—face expenses that far exceed the amounts that are (sometimes arbitrarily) established by their college. The Federal Student Aid Handbook for 2024-25 conflicts with the statute by unfairly and improperly denying students with a negative SAI additional campus-based, state, and institutional aid beyond COA—aid that would otherwise support their basic needs. This language should be removed.

Continue to advance student debt relief.

Crushing student debt is a policy failure in part due to the inability of policymakers to secure students’ basic needs. A substantial portion of outstanding student loan debt was incurred to pay for non-tuition expenses and basic needs, and primarily harms Black borrowers, borrowers with low incomes, and women. In addition, failure to access public benefits to defray the cost of college likely leads to greater borrowing among low-income households. Student debt relief and cancellation helps to ensure students and their families can return to school, claim public benefits, and avoid harmful wage garnishment. In 2022, the Biden Administration released a plan to cancel $10,000 of student debt for most borrowers, and $20,000 for those who received a Pell Grant, but was later struck down by the Supreme Court.

Nonetheless, ED has used existing debt relief programs, including Public Service Loan Forgiveness, Total and Permanent Disability Discharge, Closed School Discharge, and Borrower Defense authorities to cancel hundreds of billions in loans for those who are entitled to forgiveness under the law. In addition, ED is currently in the process of issuing rules under the Higher Education Act that would allow the Secretary of Education to cancel all or a portion of debt for several classes of borrowers, including those who have been repaying debt for two decades or more, those who owe more than they originally borrowed due to runaway interest, those who were defrauded by their colleges or whose schools closed, those who are entitled to debt relief but have been unable to access it due to administrative hurdles, and those whose loans constitute a financial hardship.

As the Administration finalizes regulations and moves forward with this debt relief, ED must ensure that borrowers who were most likely to experience basic needs insecurity while enrolled are included under the definition of financial hardship, and ideally see their debts cancelled automatically. ED should utilize the financial hardship measure to cancel debts for all students who were enrolled in, eligible for, or likely eligible for public benefits when enrolled in college (or are participating in public benefits currently), as well as those who had a $0 EFC (or SAI less than or equal to 0) or qualified for the maximum Pell Grant.

Finally, ED should construct a financial resources portal for borrowers that connects student loan borrowers with public and tax benefit programs like SNAP, Medicaid, and the student loan interest deduction. And, ED should coordinate with the Internal Revenue Service to conduct outreach to borrowers about tax benefits. When borrowers can access additional financial supports, they will be more successful in alleviating their debt.

Reform onerous “Satisfactory Academic Progress” rules.

Most federal financial aid programs have inequitable eligibility requirements that closely resemble “merit” aid. For example, students are generally stripped of federal financial aid, and often state and institutional aid, if their academic performance falls below the federal “Satisfactory Academic Progress” (SAP) thresholds, which are generally a Grade Point Average (GPA) at or above 2.0 or a course completion rate of 67% or higher.

The arbitrary restrictions disproportionately harm Black, Latine, and Native, and Indigenous students, as well as those involved in the foster care system. Students may experience academic difficulties or take fewer classes simply because they struggle with basic needs insecurity, eventually failing SAP standards and rendering them ineligible for the very financial aid they need to stay enrolled in college. This creates a doubly unfair situation: students whose academic progress is stalled because of their inability to afford college or everyday expenses are stripped of the aid that helps them meet those costs.

It is important for ED to reform SAP by issuing guidance to ensure that students who stop out can have their financial aid eligibility restored no later than two years after leaving, establish more flexibility for students to appeal SAP triggers based on extenuating circumstances such as housing insecurity or homelessness, and enhance the amount of information and warnings students receive about SAP requirements before they lose aid. These policies should then be cemented in permanent revisions to SAP regulations.

Implement the FAFSA Simplification Act to improve student basic needs security.

The 2024-25 financial aid cycle has been deeply challenging for everyone, but many opportunities remain to get students and families access to the aid they need to afford college. As ED works to fully implement the FUTURE Act and FAFSA Simplification Act, it should seize every available opportunity to support students’ basic needs security.

Many of the suggestions for changes to the FAFSA we submitted last year are still applicable and would help improve the process for students. The 2025-26 FAFSA form launching later this year should be further refined with these changes.

As previously mentioned, too few colleges or states are currently conducting outreach to students and families about public or tax benefits. ED should add a “check box” to the FAFSA that allows financial aid applicants to consent to securely share data from the FAFSA—including federal tax information—with agencies that can enroll and verify students in public benefits.

ED should also establish data-sharing agreements with other federal agencies to expand outreach to public benefits, such as SNAP, Medicaid, Affordable Care Act health care subsidies, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and education tax credits. The agency should also continue to encourage states and colleges to provide customized information to students about public benefits they may be eligible for, and to assist them in the process of enrolling in such programs.

Protect students’ reproductive rights, including access to abortion and contraception.

Restricting students’ access to abortion and reproductive care reduces educational access and achievement, particularly for the systemically marginalized students already at elevated risk of basic needs insecurity. The Supreme Court’s decision to allow states to severely limit or ban abortion and reproductive freedom in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has not only stripped countless students and families of their fundamental rights but also forced many to make impossible choices between their education and personal livelihood. The devastating consequences of the Court’s decision and state moves to restrict abortion are particularly stark for those attending college or planning to attend college.

We applaud the Administration’s protections established for pregnant and parenting students in the new federal Title IX regulations, which will safeguard the rights of millions of pregnant and parenting students. These new rules incorporate many recommendations from The Hope Center and other advocates. To continue fighting for reproductive freedom for students, ED should work alongside other federal agencies to issue additional guidance and regulations that enforce or clarify existing law, lift up best practices for states and institutions, protect student privacy, and improve the efficacy of federal financial aid.

For example, many students do not have the financial means to obtain reproductive care, especially if such care is banned or restricted in their state. Many students will need to travel or obtain medication abortion. ED should pursue guidance and regulations that clearly indicate that college’s “cost of attendance” (COA) estimates—discussed above—for “miscellaneous personal expenses” and “transportation”  should include traveling for reproductive care, obtaining abortion care (including medication abortion) and contraceptives, recovery, and other family planning needs. In addition, ED should issue guidance and regulations that emphasize the statutory authority for college financial aid offices to use “professional judgment” to adjust either the COA or the Student Aid Index (SAI) for “medical, dental, or nursing home expenses not covered by insurance,” which should clearly include abortion and reproductive care.


Reimagining Higher Education and Changing the Unjust Status Quo

These priorities reflect a need to rebuild our higher education system in ways that address both long-standing racial and economic inequities and the massive disruptions of the pandemic. Many of the landmark federal laws impacting students, including the Higher Education Act of 1965, anticipated a very different higher education landscape than the one we have now. Outdated and racist assumptions about the circumstances facing students, combined with inequitable funding of public colleges, HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs, have contributed to basic needs insecurity, growing levels of student debt, and persistent inequality across higher education and the economy.

It is time to build a new approach to higher education and a social safety net that embraces today’s students, rather than a student body that only exists in outdated imaginations. Creating a robust ecosystem of student-focused funding, a state-federal partnership, accessible public benefits, and flexible financial aid that works for all students will help secure students’ basic needs, reflect the changing demographics of students, reduce wealth and racial inequality, and promote college attainment.