U.S. House Committee Passes Spending Bill

Las week the U.S. House Appropriations Committee passed an education funding bill for fiscal year 2017. The action comes one month after the Senate unveiled an education funding bill.

Pell Grant

Unlike the Senate bill, the House would not restore year-round Pell Grants, but like the Senate, the Pell Grant maximum award is projected at $5,935 for AY 2017-18, an increase of $120, which is subject to change based on fluctuations in inflation, as defined by the Consumer Price Index (CPI).  Finally, the House bill allocates the lowest overall dollar amount to the Pell Grant Program since FY 2010 and represents a decrease of $1.3 billion from FY 2016.

Other Provisions

The House bill includes a number of other provisions.

  • Level-funding for FY 2017 for the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) and Federal Work Study (FWS)
  • A $60 million increase in funding for TRIO Programs
  • An increase in funding of $1.25 billion over FY 2016 levels for the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • Several higher education policy provisions, including provisions to block the gainful employment, teacher preparation program, credit hour, and state authorization regulations.

The bill will next be considered by the House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (“Labor-H”) Appropriations Subcommittee.

 

 

 

U. S. Senators Introduce Dual Credit Bill

U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced legislation last week to give more high school students the opportunity to take career and technical education college courses that can help prepare them for success in the 21st century. The Workforce Advance Act will help strengthen and expand dual and concurrent enrollment and early college high school options as part of Perkins-supported career technical education (CTE) programs. Strong CTE programs can provide vital access to the knowledge and skills needed for job and career success.

The Workforce Advance Act encourages states to examine how they can expand access to CTE dual and concurrent enrollment and early college high school courses. The bill would:

  • Allow states to invest leadership dollars in expanding access and supporting teachers and districts to increase the number of courses offered,
  • Encourage districts to strengthen CTE programs by incorporating college credit opportunities,
  • Use a portion of the funding they receive through the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act for tuition and fees for CTE college courses and use funding to support teachers pursuing the credentials needed to teach these courses in their high schools, helping to remove a barrier to providing access to college credit, and
  • Allow the Department of Education to use national CTE activities to help identify successful methods and best practices for providing dual or concurrent enrollment programs and early college high school career and technical education opportunities.

House Passes Series of Higher Education Bills

This week the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce passed five higher education bills.

The passage of these bills marks the first action on higher education from the education committees in both the U.S. House and the Senate.  It is expected that these bills will pass the U.S. House but are unlikely to be considered by the U.S. Senate.

Prior-Prior Year Income

Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act (HR 5528) would make permanent in the law prior-prior year income moving forward; advance efforts to simplify the FAFSA, including making the FAFSA available on mobile devices, requiring regular reports from the Department of Education (ED) on FAFSA simplification progress, and strengthening and solidifying an additional simplification tool: the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Data Retrieval tool (DRT); and modify a small provision in current law that would facilitate the earlier release of final Pell Grant numbers from ED, giving colleges the opportunity to provide accurate scholarship and grant information much earlier.

Counseling

Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act (HR 3179) would implement new requirements designed to ensure that students make informed decisions when accepting federal loans and Pell Grants. The bill would change the current one-time entrance counseling requirement for student loans into an annual counseling requirement that must be completed before the student accepts the loan(s). Under this provision students must, annually, actively accept every loan by either signing a Master Promissory Note or signing a statement accepting the loan. The required content of exit counseling would be expanded to include more borrower-specific information and annual counseling for Pell Grant recipients prior to the first disbursement of a Pell Grant in an award year would be required.

College Dashboard

Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act (HR 3178) would eliminate the College Navigator and its associated affordability and transparency lists, and state higher education charts released by ED. In its place would be a College Dashboard Website, which would be developed and maintained by ED. The Dashboard would include institutional-level information related to: basic institutional facts, such as its sector and web address; enrollment; completion rates; costs; financial aid; and cohort default rates.  The legislation would also mandate that ED include a method for Dashboard users to easily compare institutions and require institutions to ensure that net price calculators are easily identifiable and prominently posted on institutions’ websites, where cost and student aid information is already available.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)

HBCU Capital Financing Improvement Act (HR 5530) aims to improve the HBCU Capital Financing Program, which was created by Congress to provide low-cost capital to finance improvements to campus infrastructure at HBCUs. The bill enables ED to help schools understand what financial resources are available.

Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs)

Accessing Higher Education Opportunities Act (HR 5529) focuses on promoting access to education for Hispanic students and aiding Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs).The bill would increase the flexibility of current law to allow HSIs to use grant funds to encourage post-baccalaureate students to enroll in doctoral degree programs that prepare students for health care occupations and allow HSIs to use grant money to support developing or growing dual and concurrent enrollment programs.

Obama Administration Steps Up Protections for Borrowers

In recent weeks the U.S. Department of Education has taken a number of steps to increase protections for student borrowers.

Earlier this month the Department announced new rules to simplify and strengthen existing student loan forgiveness regulations for student defrauded or deceived by a higher education institution.

In addition, the Department submitted recommendations to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) regarding higher education accrediting agencies that are to be reviewed as part of the regular review process. Among the recommendations made by Department staff was the recommendations that the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, or ACICS, should no longer be recognized as an accreditor, and, at its recent spring meeting, NACIQI voted 10-3 in support of the recommendation not to re-recognize ACICS.  That recommendation now comes to the Department for a decision.

Finally the Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) provided new performance data collection of key performance data on the federal student aid portfolio.  Among the key findings in the report: enrollment in plans such as Income-Based Repayment (IBR), Pay as You Earn (PAYE), and Revised Pay as You Earn (REPAYE) is increasing; hardship deferments, delinquencies, and new defaults are decreasing while income-driven repayment (IDR) enrollment has increased; and the delinquency rate has experienced year-over-year decreases.

In the coming weeks, FSA will release information about its institution oversight responsibilities, including data on institutions that paid fines over the past five fiscal years for violating laws and regulations and historical data about institutions required to submit a letter of credit to continue in federal student aid programs.

Second Chance Pell Grant Pilot Program

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced 67 colleges and universities selected for the Second Chance Pell Grant pilot program.

The program will allow eligible incarcerated students in federal and state penal institutions to receive federal Pell Grants and pursue postsecondary education and training with the goal of helping them get jobs and support their families when they are released.

Selected institutions will partner with over 100 federal and state penal institutions to enroll approximately 12,000 incarcerated students — likely to be released in five years — in education and training programs.

The vast majority of selected institutions are public two- and four-year institutions that will offer classroom-based instruction on-site at corrections facilities.  Others will offer online education or a hybrid of classroom/online instruction.  More than 10% are Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), and about 30% percent will offer prison-based education for the first time.

Increase in U.S. Educational Attainment

New data from the Lumina Foundation’s “A Stronger Nation 2016” report indicate that the percentage of working age Americans (ages 25-64) who hold high-quality credentials beyond high school reached 45.3% nationally in 2014. That is an increase of 5.3% from 2013. Nearly all of the increase resulted from the inclusion, for the first time, of certificates – often awarded by community and technical colleges – in the base calculation. According to Lumina, nearly 5% of Americans hold high-quality postsecondary certificates. Despite the sharp increase, these rates remain short of Lumina’s “Goal 2025” that 60% of Americans obtain a high-quality postsecondary degree or credential by 2025.

The report also lists Washington as ranking among the top five states in attainment of a postsecondary credential (51.6%) – up from 42% in 2008. The inclusion of certificates added 7% to Washington’s overall attainment rate. Washington ranks behind only Massachusetts, Colorado, Connecticut, and Minnesota.

Senate Fiscal Committee Approves Funding for Education

Last week, the U. S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would reinstate year-round Pell Grants for low-income students and provide a $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The 2017 appropriations bill for the U. S. Departments of Education, Labor and Health and Human Services is a mix of investments and reductions:

  • The Pell Grant maximum grant award is increased from $5,815 to $5,935.
  • Reinstates year-round Pell Grants.
  • The U.S. Department of Education budget was reduced by $220 million from the prior year.
  • Funding was maintained at the same level for TRIO, GEAR Up, Federal Work-Study programs, Adult Education State Grants and Technical Education State Grants.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor’s Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act grant was reduced by $73,000.
  • Transfers $1.2 billion from the Pell Grant program to support other programs including increases in NIH funding, and Title I.
  • NIH funding is increased for research efforts related to cancer, Alzheimer’s and fighting the growing opioid abuse epidemic.