Skip Navigation
We use cookies to offer you a better browsing experience, provide ads, analyze site traffic, and personalize content. If you continue to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies.
NEA Issue Explainer

Higher Education

Going to college should not mean going into debt. Ensuring that higher education is accessible and affordable to all Americans is key to our nation’s prosperity—and to the well-being of students and families.
Higher Ed classroom
Published: December 2, 2021
This issue explainer originally appeared on

More careers than ever require post-secondary education, yet higher education is increasingly out of reach. Students and families—not public dollars—now fund the bulk of higher education costs.

For years, NEA members advocated canceling college debt to help fix educator shortages. Now, because of the Biden administration’s life-changing actions, student loans taken out by 48 million borrowers are being substantially reduced, forgiven, or even canceled outright. 


Aruna Krishnamurthy
“When we approach this question of disinvestment in higher education, we do so from the perspective of social justice, from the perspective of equity, from the perspective of the quality of life for our students.”

A History Advocating for Higher Education


Higher Education Act Becomes Law

President Johnson signs the Higher Education Act (HEA) into law to “strengthen the educational resources of our colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance for students in postsecondary and higher education.”

Pell Grants Begin

The Pell Grant program, the largest grant program that the U.S. Department of Education offers to undergraduate students, is created.

Higher Education Act Reauthorization

Congress reauthorizes the Higher Education Act and Pres. George H.W. Bush signs it into law. The reauthorization significantly expands the student loan program.

GEAR UP Begins

The Higher Education Act Amendments of 1998 authorize Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP). GEAR UP provides six-year grants to help increase the college-going rate of low-income students.

PSLF Program Created

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) is created under the College Cost Reduction and Access Act. PSLF is designed to encourage students to enter public service professions, such as education, through a promise to forgive student loans after 10 years’ worth of payments.

Higher Education Opportunity Act Enacted

The Higher Education Opportunity Act is enacted, reauthorizing the amended version of the Higher Education Act of 1965.
Cancel student debt sign outside U.S. White House

PSLF Program Overhauled to Meet Educators' Needs

The Biden-Harris administration on October 6 announces an overhaul of the PSLF program, including a broad expansion of the types of payments that count toward loan forgiveness. An estimated 550,000 public-service workers will see their progress toward PSLF grow because of the changes. The overhaul resulted after the administration received 168,000 emails from National Education Association members.

Speak Up For Students and Public Schools

When we act together and lift our voices together in unison, we can improve the lives of children.
Members march down the street wearing red and carrying signs.

Together we're stronger. Together we're heard.

You belong in the movement! Join today to belong to the movement of educators and school staff fighting for the pay and working conditions we all deserve.

Keeping the Promise of Quality Public Education

The Oregon Education Association (OEA) is a union committed to the cause of providing the basic right of great public education to every student. OEA represents about 41,000 educators working in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 public schools and community colleges. OEA’s membership includes licensed teachers and specialists, classified/education support professionals (ESPs), community college faculty, retired educators, and student members. OEA members also belong to the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association (NEA).