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Higher Education Policy Newsletter

February 2, 2021 — Lewis-Burke Associates LLC

A VIEW FROM WASHINGTON

January 2021 was full of action by the Biden Administration, with nominations, political appointments, executive actions, and a massive $1.9 trillion COVID relief proposal.  After announcing last month that Miguel Cardona, current Commissioner of Education for the state of Connecticut, would be the nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, the Biden team announced a series of other Department of Education (ED) leaders, including Cindy Marten, San Diego Unified School District Superintendent, as the Deputy Secretary of Education nominee.  Cardona and Marten will require Senate confirmation, with Cardona’s Senate hearing and votes expected this week. Other political positions at ED are also being filled, but notably the Under Secretary of Education, the top position focused on postsecondary education, has not yet been revealed.  ED also announced it would extend through September 2021 the current pause on federal student loan payments and collections on defaulted loans, detailed further below.  In addition, the Department sent a letter to financial aid flexibility for students who are facing unemployment or increased need due to the pandemic. 

In terms of new COVID relief, President Biden announced his American Rescue Plan, a wide-ranging proposal offered as a recovery blueprint for Congress.  The plan calls for a national vaccination plan, $50 billion in testing funds, and an additional $35 billion in funding for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund along with $5 billion for governors’ education relief.  Congressional Democrats are now planning out a legislative strategy to pass some elements of President Biden’s Plan through a budget reconciliation process that would only require a simple majority vote.  While congressional directions are still somewhat unknown, the proposed budget reconciliation bill announced this week by Democrats calls for a significant investment in education, with specific spending details to be determined by the House Education and Labor Committee.  

IN THIS ISSUE


CONGRESSIONAL UPDATES AND NEWS

Burr Named HELP Committee Ranking Member; New Appointments to House Education Committee 

Legislative Bills of Note

ADMINISTRATION AND AGENCY UPDATES AND NEWS

President Biden Continues Pause on Federal Student Loan Payments; Pushes Congress for Student Loan Forgiveness

Biden Releases a Flurry of Executive Actions 

ED Releases Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund II

Open Funding Opportunities

FACTS AND FIGURES 

Hispanic Graduate Completion

WHAT WE'RE READING

NASFAA Investing in Our Future: The Top 5 Student Aid Policies Needed to Sustain and Strengthen Higher Education
CONGRESSIONAL UPDATES AND NEWS 

Burr Named HELP Committee Ranking Member; New Appointments to House Education Committee 
Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) was named the Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee and will join new Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) in leading the committee.  Ranking Member Burr has not been particularly active on higher education policy in recent years, but has expressed interest in workforce training and name, image, likeness (NIL) issues.  Following Senator Burr’s appointment, the HELP Committee leaders announced confirmation hearings for Secretary of Education nominee Miguel Cardona on February 3 and for Secretary of Labor nominee Marty Walsh on February 4.  

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-NC) each announced new appointments to the committee. Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Bob Good (R-VA), Mary Miller (R-IL), Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), Michelle Steel (R-CA), and Mark Pocan (D-WI) were among the members joining the committee.  Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) was also appointed to the Education and Labor Committee.  In response, Chairman Scott released a statement criticizing the decision by Republican leaders, noting, ““House Republicans have appointed someone to this Committee who claimed that the killing of 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax.”  

Legislative Bills of Note 

  • H.R.251 (Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-IL)- Public Service Appreciation Through Loan Forgiveness Act.  This legislation would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to allow public service employees to be granted eligible for increased student loan forgiveness.  The full press release from Rep. Krishnamoorthi can be found here
  • H.R. 447 (Rep. Bobby Scott, D-VA)- National Apprenticeship Act of 2021.  This legislation, which is slated for the House floor this week, would provide $3.5 billion, over a five-year period, create more apprenticeship opportunities through expanding them in growing industry sectors and creating a stronger pipeline for those opportunities.  The Education and Labor Committee’s press release on the legislation can be found here
  • S. 52 (Senator Margaret Hassan, D-NH)- Gateways to Careers Act.  This bipartisan legislation would would provide grants to support partnerships between community or technical colleges and workforce development partners.  The full press release from Senator Hassan can be found here.
ADMINISTRATION AND AGENCY UPDATES AND NEWS

President Biden Continues Pause on Federal Student Loan Payments; Pushes Congress for Student Loan Forgiveness   
After his inauguration, President Biden requested the Acting Secretary of Education continue the pause on federal student loan payments and keep the interest rate at zero percent because of the continued economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  This pause is effective through September 30, 2021 and details from the U.S. Department of Education is available here.  In addition to pausing federal student loan payments, President Biden has called on Congress to forgive $10,000 in student loan debt in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  During his campaign, President Biden also supported revitalizing the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program by offering $10,000 of undergraduate student loan forgiveness for every year of public service, up to $50,000 dollars.  While neither of the student loan forgiveness proposals have been considered by Congress to date, we expect conversations around loan forgiveness and other issues related to the affordability of higher education to continue throughout the year. 

Biden Releases a Flurry of Executive Actions  
President Biden released a number of executive orders (EOs) in January with potential impacts on education.  On January 21, the “Executive Order on Supporting the Reopening and Continuing Operation of Schools and Early Childhood Education Providers,” was promulgated.  The order notes, “Two principles should guide the Federal Government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis with respect to schools, … and higher education institutions.  First, the health and safety of children, students, educators, families, and communities is paramount.  Second, every student in the United States should have the opportunity to receive a high-quality education, during and beyond the pandemic.”  The order directs the Secretary of Education to provide “evidence-based guidance to institutions of higher education on safely reopening for in-person learning.” 

Other relevant orders include the “Executive Order on Establishing the COVID-19 Pandemic Testing Board and Ensuring a Sustainable Public Health Workforce for COVID-19 and Other Biological Threats.”  The EO states that it is the policy of the Administration to support a “ Government-wide, unified approach that includes: establishing a national COVID-19 testing and public health workforce strategy; … working to expand the public health workforce; supporting screening testing for schools and priority populations…” and establishes a COVID-19 Pandemic Testing Board “to expand testing and reduce disparities in access to testing;” and “identify options for the Federal Government to maximize testing capacity of commercial labs and academic labs;” among other charges. 

Several orders impacting international students and DACA students were also released.  These include the “Proclamation on Ending Discriminatory Bans on Entry to The United States,” a reversal of what many refer to as the “Muslim Travel Bans,” and the “Preserving and Fortifying Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA),” which directs the Secretary of Homeland Security and Attorney General to “take all actions he deems appropriate, consistent with applicable law, to preserve and fortify DACA.”

ED Releases Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund II 
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced that it was releasing funding under the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund II (HEERF II), as authorized by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSAA). The $21.2 billion available under HEERF II is available to institutions of higher education to support students and aid learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.  $20.5 billion of HEERF funding will go to public and non-profit colleges and universities with the remaining going to support students at for-profit institutions. 

Non-profits will be able to use their awards for: 

  • financial aid grants to students; 
  • student support activities; 
  • institutional costs, including lost revenue, reimbursement for expenses already incurred, technology costs associated with a transition to distance education, faculty and staff trainings, and payroll. 

An institution’s HEERF II allocation includes a portion for student aid and an institutional portion.  Institutions that already have approved CARES Act HEERF awards are not required to submit a new or revised application to receive HEERF II funding.  Drawing down any amount of HEERF II funds constitutes an institution’s acceptance of the applicable terms and conditions under the CRRSAA, which will be included in the Supplemental Agreements that will be attached to the Grant Award Notification.  The expanded use of funds authority under the CRRSAA also applies to unexpended CARES Act funds. 

Institutions have one calendar year from the date of their award to expend funds.  HEERF II funding does not limit emergency grants to only students eligible to receive Title IV financial aid.  Guidance from ED, however, does not explicitly affirm the eligibility of international students, DACA recipients, or undocumented students for the student aid portion.  ED has previously held that these student groups are ineligible to receive emergency grants due to a 1996 welfare reform law prohibiting them from receiving federal public benefits. 

Reporting requirements will be specified in future announcements.  ED has stated that CRRSAA awards may be delayed or subject to restrictions for institutions that have failed to meet CARES Act reporting requirements.  ED has noted that it will take several weeks for institutions to receive their funding distributions.  Funding details on the additional Title III and V institutional relief as included in CRRSAA will be forthcoming. 

The higher education community has asked ED to clarify that HEERF II funds can be used to help all students, including undocumented students and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, as well as international students.  The community also continues to note the need for additional aid to continue to respond to COVID-19. 

Open Funding Opportunities 

ED Announces Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) Program 
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) issued a Notice Inviting Applications for fiscal year (FY) 2021 competition of the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) Program.  The GAANN program is looking to support graduate fellowships for students who demonstrate financial need and possess excellent academic records through grants to institutions of higher education (IHEs) and academic departments.  An absolute priority of the notice is that the funded project must provide one or more fellowships in one of the identified “national areas of need,” or an interdisciplinary program involving at least two of these fields, or for a multidisciplinary project.  The support should lead to the obtainment of the highest graduate degree awarded by the IHE in that area.   

The application deadline is March 1, 2021, and ED plans to fund up to 72 awards, with each award amount ranging between $101,460 and $405,840.  Project periods are expected to last up to 36 months.  For more details, the full NIA can be found here and the Lewis-Burke analysis can be found here.

ED Announces NIA for Promise Neighborhoods Program 
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) issued a Notice Inviting Applications (NIA) for new awards under the fiscal year (FY) 2021 Promise Neighborhoods (PN) Program.  The Promise Neighborhoods Program is focused on helping students living in distressed communities.  The program supports neighborhoods with high concentrations of low-income individuals, areas with high rates of poverty, and schools implementing comprehensive support services.  Applicants must provide a plan that significantly improves the lives of children living in one or more specified geographic areas. 

The deadline for notice of intent to apply is February 3, 2021 and full proposals are due by March 5, 2021.  With an estimated project period of 60 months, estimated range of award sizes is $4,000,000 to $6,000,000, with 5-7 awards expected to be distributed.  For more information the full NIA can be found here and the full Lewis-Burke analysis can be found here.

FACTS AND FIGURES: Hispanic Graduate Completion


Source: https://www.equityinhighered.org/resources/ideas-and-insights/race-and-ethnicity-in-higher-education-spotlight-hispanic-students/ 
WHAT WE'RE READING

NASFAA Investing in Our Future: The Top 5 Student Aid Policies Needed to Sustain and Strengthen Higher Education
 

Source: https://www.nasfaa.org/uploads/documents/Investing_in_Our_Future.pdf  
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