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Audiologist Loan Forgiveness Included in House Higher Education Bill


The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 4137, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007, which would reauthorize and amend the programs under the Higher Education Act (HEA). The House legislation includes new loan forgiveness provisions for school-based audiologists and speech-language pathologists from Communication and Science Disorders (CSD) programs, as well as accreditation protections sought by ASHA for over the last two years. The HEA legislation now goes to conference with an earlier passed Senate bill.

The "Loan Forgiveness for Service in Areas of National Need" section (Title IV, Section 428k) of H.R. 4137 would allow more low income students with hearing, speech, and language disabilities to have direct access to qualified audiology and speech-language pathology services in their own school. This would be achieved by offering $2,000 of federal student loan forgiveness for every year of service, for up to five years or $10,000, to qualified school-based audiologists and SLPs who work in economically-disadvantaged (Title I) schools.

ASHA urged congressional leaders to add audiologists in the final manager's amendments for H.R. 4137, creating a parallel construction of the school-based SLP loan forgiveness provision included in the original bill. ASHA was successful in convincing congressional leaders about the increased need for pediatric audiologists to support school-based and early hearing detection & intervention (EHDI) programs. An issue brief concerning these HEA loan forgiveness provisions can be found on ASHA's Web site.

Thank you to the thousands of ASHA members who have been diligently advocating for loan forgiveness for CSD graduates over the last two years!

The U.S. Senate has already considered and passed its HEA reauthorization bill, S. 1642, last July. Current federal higher education law is set to expire on March 31, 2008. ASHA members can expect a vigorous attempt to conference H.R. 4137 and S. 1642, sending a final bill to President Bush before the end of March.

While inclusion in House HEA bill is an important step, we face an uphill battle in conference since there are no similar provisions in the Senate bill. It should also be noted that even if passed in this authorization bill, these provisions will require funding through annual appropriations bills to take affect.

The legislation also prohibits the U.S. Department of Education from promulgating new regulations on accrediting bodies which was of concern to the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA) and ASHA.

ASHA staff will continue to push inclusion of loan forgiveness provisions for CSD program graduates in the conference between the House and the Senate. Watch for grassroots campaigns to help support our loan forgiveness advocacy efforts in the coming weeks. For further information, please contact Neil Snyder, ASHA's Director of Federal Advocacy, at nsnyder@asha.org or by phone at 202-624-7750.