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Higher Education Policy Newsletter

December 4, 2020 — Lewis-Burke Associates LLC


With the end of 2020 in sight, many eyes are eagerly fixed on President-elect Joe Biden’s immediate plans come January, including for education and immigration.  If the Senate remains in Republican control, most of Biden’s ambitious plans for substantially increased investment in student aid and other educational programs will be tempered.  However, through executive action, higher education regulations will likely see significant changes, such with Title IX compliance rules.  A Biden Department of Education (ED) may modify the Trump Administration’s recent proposals related to the First Amendment and free speech, faith-based organizations, and foreign gift reporting.  Regulatory issues that could receive increased attention and increased scrutiny include gainful employment, borrower defense, and oversight of for-profit institutions.  Outside of ED, but of importance to students and scholars, President-elect Biden is expected to immediately attempt to shore up the DACA program and implement reversals of President Trump’s Executive Orders on diversity training, immigration, civil service, and other areas.   

Speculation over the next Secretary of Education has focused primarily on figures associated with public K-12 education, such as teacher union leaders, with limited discussion of higher education officials.  With Dr. Jill Biden’s role as a community college professor and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ connections to the HBCU community, many anticipate that community colleges, HBCUs, and Minority-Serving Institutions will be an elevated priority under the new Administration.  Workforce development is also likely to be a Biden priority, especially as the labor market continues to recover from pandemic-related job losses. 

As is becoming common, Congress is struggling to end out the year and reach final agreement on fiscal year (FY) 2021 appropriations, which will set funding levels for education as well as the rest of the federal government.  The possibility of an additional COVID-19 relief package including higher education relief, is also still uncertain.  Of looming concern for millions of student loan borrowers is the earlier freeze on monthly loan payments and interest, which is set to expire on December 31. 



Senate Releases FY 2021 Labor-HHS-ED Funding Bill; Begins Negotiations with House 

117th Committee Leadership Outlook: House Dems Pick DeLauro to Lead Appropriations 

House Passes $3.5 Billion Apprenticeship Bill 

ED Continues Campaign on Foreign Gift Reporting 

Legislative Bills of Note


NIST Updates National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) Framework 

Open Funding Opportunities


CBO Report on Federal Student Loans 

Open Doors Report Releases 2020 Key Findings

Senate Releases FY 2021 Labor-HHS-ED Funding Bill; Begins Negotiations with House  
The U.S. Senate released its draft fiscal year (FY) 2021 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS-ED) appropriations bill and began negotiations with the U.S. House of Representatives on final funding levels. Since the Senate bypassed the formal process of voting on each appropriations bill through the Appropriations Committee and fielding votes on the Senate floor, this draft bill primarily reflects Senate Republican priorities.  In the draft Senate bill, the Department of Education (ED) would receive more than $76.8 billion in appropriations, which is $490 million more than in FY 2020.  While Pell Grants would receive an increase under the FY 2021 bill, many programs important to higher education, including Federal Work Study (FWS), Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (SEOG), and Title VI international education programs, would be flat funded at FY 2020 levels.  New and expanded initiatives supported by the Senate draft bill include a focus on increasing the accessibility of higher education for minority students and strengthening Minority-Serving Institutions.

Overall, the funding levels proposed for the majority of ED programs of importance to higher education were lower than those proposed in the House of Representatives FY 2021 Labor-HHS-ED appropriations bill.  Congress needs to come to agreement on the Labor-HHS-ED and 11 other FY 2021 appropriations bills before the current continuing resolution (CR) expires on December 11 to avert a government shutdown.  House and Senate appropriations leaders recently agreed to topline funding levels for each of the appropriations bills and announced all 12 appropriations bills would be considered in a single “omnibus” package. Lewis-Burke's full analysis can be found here and Lewis-Burke will continue to monitor the appropriations process and provide updates as FY 2021 appropriations are finalized.  

117th Committee Leadership Outlook: House Dems Pick DeLauro to Lead Appropriations  
With the 2020 election results mostly finalized, Congress has turned its attention to preparing and selecting leadership for the 117th Congress.  Democrats in the House of Representatives, who retained a narrow majority, have elected Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) as the Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. Congresswoman DeLauro is likely to continue leading the Labor-HHS-ED Subcommittee responsible for allocating funding for the Department of Education (ED) in addition to her new role leading the full committee.  House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) will continue his committee role.  On the Republican side, Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Kay Granger (R-TX), Labor-HHS-ED Subcommittee Ranking Member Tom Cole (R-OK), and Education and Labor Committee Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-NC) are all expected to maintain their leadership roles.   

Although control of the Senate is still unresolved, Republicans currently maintain a two-seat advantage. If they remain the majority party of the Senate, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) is considered a favorite to lead the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee following her reelection. However, Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Rand Paul (R-KY) both have seniority over Senator Collins and are also potential picks to lead the Committee.  If Democrats win both undecided seats and claim a Senate majority, current HELP Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) will become Chairwoman.  Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL), Ranking Member Pat Leahy (D-VT), Labor-HHS-ED Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO), and Subcommittee Ranking Member Murray are all expected to remain in their current roles for the 117th Congress. 

House Passes $3.5 Billion Apprenticeship Bill
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Apprenticeship Act of 2020 (NAA), H.R. 8294, a bill that would update the U.S. apprenticeship system. Apprenticeship as an earn-and-learn model has enjoyed strong bipartisan support from presidential administrations and Congress over the past several years. NAA would codify several efforts and initiatives at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), including the Office of Apprenticeship, and would require DOL and the U.S. Department of Education to better promote the integration and alignment of apprenticeship programs with secondary, postsecondary, and adult education. The bill would also create new grants to expand national apprenticeship system programs and improve alignment between the apprenticeship system and education providers. A press release announcing the legislation noted that the bill would support, “nearly $3.5 billion over five years to scale-up apprenticeship opportunities, streamline access to apprenticeships for workers and employers, and expand apprenticeships into new in-demand industry sectors and occupations.” 

Disagreements over an alternative apprenticeship model supported by the Trump Administration (Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Program) likely means the bill won’t be passed this Congress. Apprenticeships are likely to figure prominently under a Biden Administration.

ED Continues Campaign on Foreign Gift Reporting
The U.S. Department of Education continued its regulatory oversight of foreign gift reporting.  Section 117 of the Higher Education Act (HEA) requires the reporting of contracts with and gifts from a foreign source that, alone or combined, are valued at $250,000 or more in a calendar year.  Most recently, ED released a “Notice of Interpretation Section 117” Federal Register notice.  The notice clarifies the Department’s enforcement authority “with respect to institutions that fail to report accurate and complete Section 117 information.” The notice states that an institution, as part of their ability to receive student aid funding, is required to report Section 117 data. The notice also claims that ED has subpoena authority when investigating violations.  A letter from several higher education associations to President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris, requests that the incoming Administration, “Halt the expanded reporting requirements, including the new Information Collection Request (ICR) and Notice of Interpretation (NOI) on Section 117 imposed by the Department of Education (ED) in its effort to expand those reporting requirements beyond what is included in the current statute.”   

Legislative Bills of Note 

  • H.R. 8729 (Rep. Debra Haaland, D-NM)- Native American Language Resource Center Act.  This legislation would create a resource center for the continuation and protection of Native American language education.  Representative’s Haaland’s press release on the legislation can be found here.  
  • H.R. 8748 (Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-VA)- HONOR Our Veterans' Sacrifice Act. This legislation would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to remove veteran’s benefits from the list of benefits that must be reported when applying for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  Representative Spanberger’s press release on the legislation can be found here

  • H.R. 8691 (Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-CT)- Save Education Jobs Act.  This legislation would establish an Education Jobs Fund, with 90% of the $261 billion in funding dedicated towards saving jobs in education that would have been cut due to COVID-19 budget restraints. Representative Hayes’s press release on the legislation can be found here


NIST Updates National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) Framework    
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released their framework for the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE), whose purpose is to “identify, recruit, develop, and retain cybersecurity talent.  The framework has been built around the difference between “the work” and “the learner” and how the two must work together to complete Tasks, Knowledge, and Skills (TKS) statements.  The “work” is an organization that must execute certain tasks to achieve certain cybersecurity risk management objectives, whereas the “learner” can be a student, employee, a member of the cyber workforce, etc. that will continue to acquire knowledge and skills in the always-changing environment of cyber.  

The NICE Framework encourages institutions and cyber education programs to create a harmonious cyber curriculum so that students are prepared with the skills that employers expect. In the coming years, it is expected for the number of jobs in cybersecurity to grow, underscoring the importance of creating and enabling a pipeline from academic cybersecurity programs to a career in the field. The Framework also encourages organizations to identify communities of education to address any gaps of skills and knowledge that the current cybersecurity workforce may have. The full NICE Framework can be found here

Open Funding Opportunities 

ED and IES Release Small Business Innovation Research Phase 1 Solicitations  
The Department of Education (ED) and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) released on December 1 the phase 1 solicitations for the fiscal year (FY) 2021 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding opportunities.  The Education Phase I Solicitation asks proposers to develop prototypes of education technology in one of the following areas: 
  1. “Products that apply emerging technologies to support student learning and relevant education outcomes; or 
  2. Products to modernize assessment and support student learning and relevant education outcomes; or 
  3. Products used by educators or administrators to inform decision making; or 
  4. Products to prepare existing evidence-based interventions to be used at scale in education settings; or 
  5. Products for informal learning to reverse learning loss for the lowest performing students.” 
The Special Education Phase I Solicitation asks proposers to develop prototypes for education technology used for special education in one of the following areas: 
  1. “Products to support infants, toddlers or students with, or at risk for, disabilities, or educators (or other instructional personnel, related services providers, or family members); or 
  2. Products to Prepare Existing Special Education Interventions With Evidence to be Used at Scale in Education Settings.” 
Awards under both solicitations are for up to $200,000 for an eight-month period. Proposals are due on Thursday, January 21, 2021 at 11:00 AM ET with awards expected to be announced 90 days after the proposal deadline. 

IES Announces Transformative Research in the Education Sciences and Research Networks Opportunities
The Institute of Education Sciences (IES), through the National Center for Education Research (NCER), recently released a Request for Applications (RFA) for the Transformative Research in the Education Sciences Grants Program, which supports unconventional research that can lead to "more effective approaches to education practice or policy, or transformative technologies that substantially increase learner outcomes."  Proposals with conceptual, technical, or both innovations are welcomed, but applications must follow the principles outlined in the IES-wide Standards for Excellence in Education Research (SEER).   

Institutions with the "ability and capacity to conduct rigorous research" are eligible to apply and especially encourages applications from Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI).  Awardees can request up to $3 million in funding for a period of performance of three years.  If successful, the awardees will have the opportunity to apply for another period of funding for two years.  Letters of intent are due on January 7, 2021 and the application deadline is February 25, 2021 at 11:59 PM ET.  The full solicitation can be found here

NCER will also soon post a RFA for the Research Networks Focused on Critical Problems of Education Policy and Practice grant program for an Adult Skills Network topic and Digital Learning Platforms Network topic.  Applications will also be due February 25, 2021.  Initial details are in the Federal Register notice, with a forthcoming RFA to be posted here.  

ED Releases High School Equivalency Program (HEP) and College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) Grant Opportunities  
The High School Equivalency Program (HEP) works with those who are 16 years or older and work seasonally or migrate and are not enrolled in school obtain “the equivalent of a high school diploma.” This training helps 5,000 people annually and works to provide them the skills to apply for postsecondary education or obtain jobs which require a General Education Development (GED).  More information about the competition can be found here

The College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) similarly assists migrant and seasonal workers and students complete their first year of education at an institute of higher education.  More information about the competition can be found here.

Applications for both awards are due on January 22, 2021.  ED is expecting to present 14 awards estimating to range from $180,000 to $475,000 with a projected period of performance of up to 60 months. 

FACTS AND FIGURES: CBO Report on Federal Student Loans 


Open Doors Report Releases 2020 Key Findings

The Institute of International Education, along with the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, recently released the key findings from the 2020 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange.  The report shows a 1.8 percent decline in the number of total international students enrolled in U.S. based institutions of higher education during the 2019/2020 academic year.  Additionally, the report states 347,099 American students studied abroad during the 2018/2019 academic year, a 1.6 percent increase over the previous year.  Further details are available at  
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