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Higher Education Policy Newsletter

May 4, 2020 — Lewis-Burke Associates LLC


Higher education institutions continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications for the safety of campuses, students, and faculty.   In April, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) began implementation of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provided $14.25 billion in aid for institutions of higher education.  Of the $14.25 billion, over $12 billion is being allocated to institutions of higher education based on a formula weighted towards each institution’s share of full-time Pell Grant recipients, and at least 50 percent of aid received by an institution from the CARES Act must go to direct student support.  Importantly, ED emphasized in an April 21 FAQ statement that international students and DACA recipients are not eligible to receive emergency aid provided under the CARES Act.  Regarding institutional aid, ED recently clarified that the provided funds are “to cover any costs associated with significant changes to the delivery and instruction due to the coronavirus.”  A list of emergency funding allocations for institutions of higher education is available here.    

While the emergency funds provided by the CARES Act were a needed infusion of aid, there is consensus among the higher education community that additional funds will be needed to supplement these efforts in a future stimulus package.  Because the pandemic has created immense financial stress on institutions of higher education, additional funds are needed to support payment of graduate students and postdocs, to aid and educate students through distance education, and to support the higher education workforce.  Furthermore, the higher education community recommends extending tax credits to public higher education institutions that provide extended paid leave, $26 billion in supplemental appropriations for the major federal research agencies to support the research enterprise, and ensuring emergency aid provided to students is non-taxable.  It is expected that Congress will begin consideration of a fifth stimulus package in the coming months, as the impacts of COVID-19 on the economy continue. 

In non-COVID related news, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved ED’s Information Collection Request (ICR) regarding changes to the Section 117 foreign gift and contract reporting requirements authorized under the Higher Education Act.  OMB’s approval of the ICR indicates that ED’s regulatory process is continuing, despite efforts by the higher education community to delay further actions on regulatory proposals until after the COVID-19 pandemic.


Looming Challenges for International and DACA Students 

NCAA Releases Recommendations for Updated Name, Image, and Likeness Guidelines for Student-Athletes

Legislative Bills of Note 

STEM Advisory Panel Holds Bi-Annual Meeting

Regional Educational Laboratories COVID-19 Remote Learning Strategies and Best Practices 

Open Grant Competitions at ED 

2020 Spotlight: Vice President Joe Biden's Workforce Development Plans 

ACE Survey Finds College Presidents Concerned COVID will Impact Enrollment

Third Way Releases report: Price to Earnings Premium: A New Way of Measuring Return on Investment in Higher Ed



Looming Challenges for International and DACA Students 

The U.S. Supreme Court recently accepted a brief filed in a case dealing with the Trump Administration’s termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.  The brief notes that many DACA recipients are making contributions during the coronavirus pandemic.  The Court heard oral arguments in November and is expected to issue a ruling before the end of June.  The higher education community continues to make the case for the preservation of the program and is preparing for any eventual decision. 

In other legal developments, a case dealing with a challenge to the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program was moved to September.  OPT permits certain international students studying at institutions to pursue practical training with an employer in a position directly related to their course of study.  As noted by NAFSA: Association of International Educators, more than 1.5 million students participated in OPT between 2004 and 2016.    

After proposing an "immigration ban" via Twitter, President Trump issued a proclamation on April 22 suspending entry for certain new immigrants for 60 days who do not already have an approved immigrant visa.  Of note, the proclamation does not impact applicants for adjustment of status to permanent residence, or nonimmigrants, such as students, exchange visitors, and H-1B workers, among others.  Unfortunately for foreign students and scholars, routine visa and consular services at U.S. embassies and consulates remain suspended, as per the Department of State announcement on March 20, 2020.  A copy of the Presidential proclamation is available here

NCAA Releases Recommendations for Updated Name, Image, and Likeness Guidelines for Student-Athletes  

At the end of April, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Federal and State Legislation Working Group presented its recommendations on the modernization of the policies regarding student-athletes’ commercialization of their name, image, and likeness (NIL) to the NCAA Board of Governors. The recommendations included allowing student-athletes to be compensated for third-party endorsements, including social media influencer activity, as well as their own business activity providing it does not “involve athletics participation or play.”  

In addition to recommending modernization of the NIL policy, the working group recommended the following guardrails be put into place to ensure any new policies are not abused: any NIL compensation received by athletes must represent a genuine payment for use of their NIL; schools and conferences are to play no role in NIL activities of student-athletes; schools and boosters are not permitted to use NIL opportunities in recruiting; the role of third parties in NIL activities needs to be regulated; students cannot be compensated for their NIL in situations where they have no legal right to be; and the modernization of NIL cannot interfere in diversity, inclusion, and gender equity efforts.  Final NCAA votes on the NIL modernization recommendations will occur in January 2021. 

Federal congressional interest in NIL has also continued.  The NCAA and the Autonomy Five conferences (The Big Ten, the SEC, The Big 12, the Pac-12, and the ACC) are seeking a superseding federal solution to be implemented on or before July 1, 2021, when the first state-based NIL law goes into effect, to avoid a patchwork of policies that disadvantage students.

Legislative Bills of Note 

  • H.R. 6502 (Rep. Harder, D-CA) – COVID-19 Graduate Relief Act.  The COVID-19 Graduate Relief Act would allow students who graduate from institutes of higher education during calendar year 2020 to defer repayment of federal student loans for up to three years and the U.S. Department of Education to expend the eligibility window to 2021 and 2022 graduates if the economic impacts of COVID-19 persist.  Rep. Harder’s press release on the legislation is available here

  • H.R.6588 (Rep. Krishnamoorthi, D-IL) – Homeland Security Higher Education Advisory Council Act.  The Homeland Security Higher Education Advisory Council Act would direct the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish an advisory council to provide recommendations and advice to the Secretary on issues concerning homeland security and the academic community, including foreign interference, cybersecurity, and international student visas.  A February letter from Rep. Krishnamoorthi to the Department of Homeland Security concerning the now-defunct Homeland Security Academic Advisory Council is available here.  

  • H.R. 6590 (Rep. Pappas, D-NH) – This bill would prevent the Department of Veterans Administration (VA) from collecting or recording certain debts from veteran’s benefits (unless paid voluntarily) and restrict interest accrual and administrative fees until 60 days after the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.  Rep. Pappas’ press release on the legislation is available here

  • H.R. 6402 (Rep. Levin, D-MI) – COVID-19 Workforce Emergency Response Act. The COVID-19 Workforce Emergency Response Act would allow states and local jurisdictions to use certain unobligated funds for emergency workforce investment activities through one-stop delivery systems, allow states to distribute certain unobligated funds to local boards in areas most heavily impacted by COVID-19, and direct the U.S. Department of Labor to award national dislocated worker grants.  Rep. Levin’s press release on the legislation is available here.  


STEM Advisory Panel Holds Bi-Annual Meeting  

This month, the federal STEM Advisory Panel held one of its bi-annual meetings. The STEM Advisory Panel was jointly formed by the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 2017 in response to the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act to help identify the need or opportunity to update the Federal STEM Education Strategic Plan.  The panel is made up of members from academic institutions, non-profits, and industry who provide advice and information on STEM education research, development, training, implementation, interventions, professional development or workforce needs or concerns.  

The advisory panel focused largely on the federal response to COVID-19 and the pandemic’s impacts on STEM education.  The panelists brainstormed ways to make STEM education resources accessible to students and parents, how to transition federal STEM internships from in-person to remote experiences, how to provide internet access to students who do not have it, and how best to keep STEM connected to industry to understand their needs as the pandemic impacts the workforce.   

Dr. Cindy Hasselbring was introduced as the new Assistant Direct for STEM Education at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the panel discussed Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier’s appointment as Interim Director of NSF until Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan is able to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.   Finally, the advisory panel announced they are accepting recommendations for membership.  Additional information regarding materials to be submitted with a recommendation is available here. 

Regional Educational Laboratories COVID-19 Remote Learning Strategies and Best Practices  

The U.S Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences funds a network of 10 Regional Educational Laboratories (REL), and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, all RELs have collaborated to produce evidence-based resources and guidance about learning remotely. On April 14, the Mid Atlantic REL conducted a webinar titled “Leaning Remotely in the Age of COVID-19: Lessons from Evidence and Concerns for Equity.” The webinar hosted by Heather Bennet, Felicia Hurwitz, and Steven Malick, highlighted approaches to addressing equity concerns magnified due to remote learning and developed a framework for informed decision making for educators as they respond to the needs of their students. School systems around the nation are incorporating different models for instruction, and it is imperative to acknowledge that literature reports synchronous learning is the best practice going forward. The webinar shows that some of the positive impacts include feedback, tutoring and support strategies, project-based learning, and an increase in contingency planning.  Research also suggests that the achievement gap will likely widen as disadvantaged students have difficulty with access to devices, connectivity and instruction. Additional information about all RELs COVID-19 evidence-based resources is available here. 

Open Grant Competitions at ED 

Institute of Education Sciences NCER and NCSER Grant Competitions Announced
The U.S. Department of Education ‘s (ED) Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has announced its fiscal year (FY) 2021 competitions for education research and special education research.  IES plans to host eight competitions in FY 2021 that address a range of relevant topic areas, including research related to STEM education and Career and Technical education, two topics of interest to policymakers, agency officials, and the Trump Administration.  The awards will be administered through the Institute’s major grant-awarding centers, the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER).  NCER will administer four competitions: Education Research, Education Research Training, Education Research and Development Centers, and Research Grants Focused on Systemic Replication in Education.  NCSER will administer four competitions: Special Education Research, Research Training Programs in Special Education, Research Grants Focused on NAEP Process Data for Learners with Disabilities, and Research Grants Focused on Systemic Replication.  Applications for all competitions will become available on June 11, 2020, and will be due August 20, 2020.  Project periods and funding levels are dependent on competition.  Additional information, including required application topics for each competition, are available here. 

Mid-phase Education Innovation and Research (EIR) Grant 

The Department of Education (ED) announced their call for fiscal year (FY) 2020 Education Innovation and Research (EIR) Mid-Phase grants, to support efforts by educational systems to create, implement, and evaluate innovative, evidence-based solutions to academic challenges facing high-need students and is designed to generate and validate solutions to persistent education challenges.  For EIR Mid-Phase proposals should expand the use of practices with prior evidence of effectiveness in order to improve outcomes, with this competition including priority areas of promoting STEM education and building skills to “Prepare Students to be Informed, Thoughtful, and Productive Individuals and Citizens.”   

Applications are due June 15, 2020.  ED intents to make 16-20 awards of up to $8 million each in FY 2020.  Of note, state education agencies (SEAs), local education agencies (LEAs), non-profit organizations (including institutions of higher education (IHEs) that can document its nonprofit status), and the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) are eligible to apply.  Any IHE may apply as part of a consortium led by a SEA, LEA, or the BIE.  The notice inviting applications is available here

Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) Grant  

In April, ED also announced the FY 2020 competition of the Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) grant program, to support the implementation of “evidence-based practices to prepare, develop, or enhance the skills of educators” across the continuum of educators’ careers. This competition includes priority areas of STEM education, social and emotional learning (SEL) practices, and serving educators serving in Qualified Opportunity Zones.  Higher Education institutions that can offer “course materials or resources that are evidence-based in increasing academic achievement, graduation rates, or rates of postsecondary education matriculation” and other organizations are eligible to apply.  Applications are due June 12, 2020.  Further details are available here

2020 Spotlight: Vice President Joe Biden’s Workforce Development Plans 

Partially due to COVID-19, there is a renewed focus among policymakers on workforce development proposals and initiatives.  Former Vice President Joe Biden, now the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, has outlined a number of workforce development policy ideas he would support.  In his “Education Beyond High School” plan, Vice President Biden proposes a $50 billion investment in workforce training, including increased funding for the Registered Apprenticeship Program and partnerships between businesses, unions, community colleges, universities, and high schools to identify in-demand skills and modernize short- to medium-term training programs.  Vice President Biden also proposes grant funding for credit-granting on-the-job training and paid internships related to a student’s degree, as well as other initiatives designed to accelerate students’ pathways to credentials.  Vice President Biden’s debt-free community college plan would also cover other high-quality training and credentialing programs with a track record of completion and return on investment.  More information on Vice President Biden’s workforce development plans are available here

FACTS AND FIGURES: ACE Survey Finds College Presidents Concerned COVID Will Impact Enrollment 



Third-Way releases report: Price-to-Earnings Premium: A New Way of Measuring Return on Investment in Higher Ed 

“Right now, the federal government has minimal safeguards in place to ensure that students are getting a return on investment from the institutions in which they enroll. And while there are many takes on how to assess the “value” of higher education, prospective students have few measures that allow them to easily assess how long it will take to recoup their educational investment—or to compare those timelines across schools or programs. Providing information on the cost students pay out-of-pocket relative to the amount of additional earnings that they could expect can help them and others determine whether the economic outlay—and the taxpayer subsidy in the form of grants and loans that comes along with it—is worth the education they receive. Ultimately, the economic premium an institution provides to its students should allow them to pay down the cost of attendance within a reasonable amount of time. And if it never will, students and taxpayers should know that, too.” 

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