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Higher Education Policy Newsletter

November 4, 2019 — Lewis-Burke Associates LLC

U.S. House Democrats unveiled their proposal for a comprehensive Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization bill, drawing a stark contrast with the narrow Senate HEA bill introduced in September.  The bill was approved by the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee following a marathon three-day markup, but it is unclear if House procedural rules will allow the bill to receive a vote before the full House of Representatives.  The bill, estimated to cost approximately $400 billion, is unlikely to earn the support of Senate Republicans or President Trump.  Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) recently introduced a bipartisan, stand-alone bill that would simplify the FAFSA by reducing the number of questions and using tax information from the Internal Revenue Service to streamline the process (more information available in the Legislative Bills of Note).  
On the regulatory side, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) issued its final regulations governing college accreditation and state authorization.  The regulations will go into effect starting July 2020, but institutions and agencies are granted the discretion to follow early implementation and begin compliance with the new rules immediately.  Further regulatory details included below. 
ED has also faced recent legal setbacks.  Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was fined $100,000 for contempt of court by U.S. District Court Judge Sallie Kim due to the Department’s continued collection on loans held by Corinthian Colleges students.  Judge Kim had previously ordered ED to cease collection on the loans; however, ED continued to not only request payments from these borrowers but also garnished wages or placed negative marks on the credit of those who did not make payments.  The fine will be paid by ED and not by Secretary DeVos personally. 
Despite a renewed push from leadership in both chambers, the bills funding ED and other federal agencies remain caught up in partisan disagreements.  Congress is unlikely to make significant progress towards an agreement before current funding expires on November 21. Congressional Democrats are reportedly pursuing another continuing resolution (CR) that will extend funding into early 2020, providing additional time to continue negotiations.  


HEA Bill Heads to the House 

House Democrats Criticize ED Handling of PSLF Program in New Report 

Legislative Bills of Note

REL Midwest Hosts Webinar: Teacher “Perceptions and Use of Technology in Teaching”

ED Announces Changes to Online FAFSA and myFSApay Account

ED Releases Final Accreditation Regulations

Former VP Biden Endorses Tuition-Free Community College in New Plan

Bachelor's Degrees Conferred by Postsecondary Institutions

Are Higher Ed Leaders Ready for Market Change?


HEA Bill Heads to the House 

October saw the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee markup and approve H.R. 4674, the College Affordability Act (CAA), a Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization bill.  The bill proposes significant modifications to many facets of higher education.  Financial aid, institutional aid, accreditation, international education, reporting requirements, and more would see substantive policy and funding changes.  The CAA’s impact on individual higher education institutions will vary due to proposed changes in campus-based aid funding formulas, student populations served, and new proposals that will need to be more fully defined. 

The bill was approved by a vote of 28-22, with support only from the Committee’s Democrats.  Disagreements between Committee Republicans and Democrats centered on the bill’s cost, extending aid to undocumented students, and Title IX regulations, among other issues.  Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) noted during the markup, “the College Affordability Act is a comprehensive bill that will immediately improve the lives of students and families while putting a down payment on investments that we need to make in the future.”  Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-NC) remarked during the markup, “Our nation’s postsecondary education system is in desperate need of comprehensive reform.  Congress can no longer rubber stamp a law first created over 50 years ago.  Unfortunately, the legislation we are considering today, the so-called College Affordability Act, puts politics and special interests above bipartisan solutions.” 

Highlights from the bill include: 
  • A $625 increase to the Pell Grant award which would support a maximum award of $6,820 and allows for Pell eligibility for postbaccalaureate study; 
  • A return of subsidized graduate student loans, extension of the authorization of the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) program; 
  • A revision of the institutional allocation formula for Federal Work-Study and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program funding; 
  • Increase authorized Title II - Teacher Preparation funding from $300 million to $500 million; 
  • Increase authorized funding for Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI) grant programs, including a permanent increase in mandatory funding to $300 million; 
  • The bill would update and consolidate the current Title VI - International and Foreign Language programs to eight programs.  Authorized funding levels would increase to $125 million; and 
  • The bill would prevent the implementation of the Title IX campus sexual assault regulations that ED is in the process of promulgating, but would require new Clery Act crime reporting and a biennial climate survey. 
Sources and Additional Information:  House Democrats Criticize ED Handling of PSLF Program in New Report
The U.S. House Education and Labor Committee released a report detailing the Department of Education’s (ED) lack of action to address problems with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, despite having evidence of extensive challenges with the program’s servicer, FedLoan Servicing.  The report specifically charges that audits from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) and ED's own Federal Student Aid office (FSA) discovered that FedLoan Servicing was “incorrectly classifying employers, missing qualifying payments, and providing misleading information to borrowers.”  The report states that despite these early warning signs, ED failed to make any significant changes or implement any of the GAO’s recommendations to improve the program.  The Education and Labor Committee will likely conduct continued oversight into the Department’s handling of the PSLF program and seek legislative fixes to address the program’s shortfalls.  

Sources and Additional Information:   Legislative Bills of Note 
  • S.2667 (Senator Alexander, R-TN)- FAFSA Simplification Act of 2019.  This bill would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to simplify the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA).  This legislation was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.  
  • H.R. 4372 (Rep. Johnson, D-TX) - MSI STEM Achievement Act.  This bill would aim to improve the quality of undergraduate STEM education and enhance the research capacity at the Nation’s HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs, and for other purposes.  This legislation passed the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and is awaiting consideration by the full House of Representatives.    

REL Midwest Hosts Webinar: Teacher “Perceptions and Use of Technology in Teaching”  

The Department of Education's Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest hosted a webinar on the need to prepare students to succeed in the work environment and society of the 21st century and to provide an overview of their report “Technology Use in Instruction and Teacher Perceptions of School Support for Technology Use in Iowa High Schools.”  The study had four research questions, including how frequently teachers ask students to use technology in ways to promote 21st-century skills; if teachers perceive that technology enhances learning; if teachers are confident in their ability to select and use education technology; and how much professional development supports teacher use of technology for instruction.  

The study had several major findings, including that teachers with four to nine years of experience were most likely to ask students to use technology.  When defined by subject, social studies teachers were the most likely to ask students to use technology in the classroom, while math teachers were the least likely.  The study found teachers are not consistent in using technology in ways that demonstrate 21st-century skills and that professional development is vital to successful technology use in the classroom.  The authors of the report suggested school leaders offer sustained approaches to technology-focused professional learning embedded in teachers’ ongoing professional responsibilities rather than through intermittent approaches to successfully promote the use of technology to develop 21st-century skills in the classroom.   
Sources and Additional Information:  ED Announces Changes to Online FAFSA and myFSApay Account  

The Department of Education (ED) announced new features to the online Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form and the myStudentAid mobile app.  These changes were rolled out as ED launches the 2020-2021 FAFSA.  Several changes were made, including synchronizing with the myStudentAid mobile app, allowing customers to switch between the online FAFSA form and the app; providing the ability to view their Student Aid Report (SAR) via the app; and making the IRS Data Retrieval Tool mobile-friendly, among other changes. 

Additionally, ED announced they will launch the myFSApay account pilot by the end of the year.  The myFSApay account is a free option for students at participating schools to receive credit balance refunds.  During the pilot, students will have self-service options; the ability to add money other than student aid funds to their account; and will not be charged fees.  The account will be accessible through the myMoney feature of the myStudentAid app.   

Sources and Additional Information: 
  • The press release on the Department of Education changes to the online FAFSA form and the myFSApay pilot is available at
ED Releases Final Accreditation Regulations 

The end of a process that began in the summer of 2018, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) published final regulations on November 1, 2019, relating to the accreditation of institutions of higher education as well as State authorization requirements for distance education.  The regulations will take effect on July 1, 2020, with some provisions relating to the recognition of accrediting agencies taking effect July 1, 2021.  ED will allow institutions to early implement the rule as of November 1.   

Under the revised accreditation regulations, geography will not be used to determine an accreditor’s scope of recognition.  Additionally, the regulations state that accreditors must respect the mission of an institution of higher education.  The regulations will also require that State authorization reciprocity agreements meet the requirements of the State authorization regulations for States that elect to participate in them.  Several regulations related to substantive change were also made, one change will allow accrediting agencies' decision-making bodies to designate agency senior staff members to approve or disapprove certain substantive changes. 

In a statement accompanying the publication of the regulations, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos noted, “reforms are necessary to bring higher education into the current century, to be more responsive to the needs of students, and to reduce the skyrocketing cost of higher education.”  ED will also publish soon regulations related to distance education, TEACH grants, and faith-based institutions. 

Sources and Additional Information: 


Former VP Biden Endorses Tuition-Free Community College in New Plan 

Democratic primary front-runner and former Vice President Joe Biden released his higher education plan, which aims to invest in community colleges, increase college affordability, and support Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs).  The plan calls for a state-federal partnership on a tuition-free community college program similar to that in the College Affordability Act (see above), as well as new grant programs to improve student success, invest in workforce training, and provide updated facilities and technology.  The plan would address higher education affordability by doubling the maximum Pell Grant award; restructuring and simplifying loan repayment options; expanding uses of Federal Work-Study funding; and creating grant programs to support under-resourced institutions and incentivize states to align high school, community college, and four-year program requirements.  Notably, Vice President Biden’s plan would shorten the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program to five years and would forgive $10,000 in loans for each year of service completed, for a maximum total of $50,000.  



Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS), "Degrees and Other Formal Awards Conferred" surveys, 1970-71 through 1985-86; Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), "Completions Survey" (IPEDS-C:91-99); and IPEDS Fall 2000 through Fall 2017, Completions component. 

Are Higher Ed Leaders Ready for Market Change?  

“Faced with financial, competitive and demographic challenges to the traditional higher education business model, most institutions still plan for the “medium term” — not fast enough to be agile or future-facing enough to be transformational. Fifty-seven percent of leaders report that their institution plans in a three- to five-year timeframe, as has been conventional in higher education for decades. Only 16% are looking out 10 years or beyond.”  

Source: American Council on Education, Georgia Tech, and Huron report, “The Transformation-Ready Higher Education Institution: How Leaders Can Prepare for and Promote Change” 
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