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Higher Education Policy Newsletter

December 2, 2019 — Lewis-Burke Associates LLC

A VIEW FROM WASHINGTON
With eleven months of 2019 elapsed, there has been a lot of policy "noise" and some policy substance in the higher education space.  

While the year began with the U.S. Department of Education (ED) funded, ED and the rest of the federal government are currently operating under a short-term funding deal for fiscal year (FY) 2020.  

Title IX regulations were proposed and received over 124,000 comments. The final regulations, which deal with sexual discrimination in education, may be released early next year and have been a roadblock in Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization efforts in the U.S. Senate.  ED also pursued and reached consensus via a negotiated rulemaking for accreditation and innovation-related regulations, some of which will go into effect in July 2020.  

On the HEA front, both the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held hearings on HEA reauthorization.  The House Committee approved a comprehensive reauthorization bill, the College Affordability Act (H.R 4674), which would significantly increase spending on student aid and could be passed by the House early next year.

In the spring, the White House released an Executive Order (EO) that would tie federal funding eligibility to an institution’s promotion of free speech rights under the First Amendment.  The EO also directed ED make efforts at increasing higher education transparency.  Implementation is ongoing with parts of the EO already in place with program of study earnings data now available on the College Scorecard.

International students faced increased visa fees and regulatory barriers, including potential regulations that would establish a maximum period of authorized stay for students.

ED launched several investigations into potential failure by institutions to report foreign gifts under Section 117 of the HEA.  Additionally, the Department released a related foreign gift information collection that would be extremely burdensome if enacted. Finally, the influence of China on institutions continued to be a priority for policymakers, with hearings and legislation calling for increased transparency and research protections.

IN THIS ISSUE

CONGRESSIONAL UPDATES AND NEWS
Federal Funding Extended to December

Congress Questions Forever GI Bill Implementation and Pursues Other Vet Protections

Senate Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Securing U.S. Research from China’s Talent Recruitment Plans

Legislative Bills of Note

ADMINISTRATION AND AGENCY UPDATES AND NEWS
ED Updates College Scorecard

President Announces New Members to National Board on Education Sciences

Trump Administration Releases STEM Progress Report and ED Announces STEM Investments

Department of Education Announces Revised Policy for Standard Term Length

Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad Program Applications Open

2020 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Mayor Pete Buttigieg Releases College Affordability Plan

FACTS AND FIGURES
Enrollment of International Students Drops for Second Year in a Row

WHAT WE'RE READING
Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce: "A First Try at ROI: Ranking 4,500 Colleges"

 

CONGRESSIONAL UPDATES AND NEWS

Federal Funding Extended to December
With hours left before a deadline to avoid a federal government shutdown, President Trump signed a continuing resolution (CR) which extends government funding, including for the U.S. Department of Education programs, to December 20.  Significant for the higher education community was the exclusion of authority to extend mandatory funding for several Minority-Serving Institution (MSI) programs, including the Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) program.  A vehicle for this effort, the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education (FUTURE) Act (H.R. 2486), was passed by the U.S. House earlier this year, but not approved yet by the Senate.  While congressional negotiators have made progress on allocating funding, disagreements over funding for a border wall continue to stymie a final resolution.  While both political parties would like to claim victory for funding the government, a path to a final compromise may be obstructed by policy debates, impeachment, and the approaching presidential election in 2020.
 
Sources and Additional Information:  
Congress Questions Forever GI Bill Implementation and Pursues Other Vet Protections
On November 19, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held a hearing to examine the "Forever GI Bill" implementation efforts. Specifically, the hearing focused on implementation of the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 and the Forever GI Bill Housing Payment Fulfillment Act of 2018, which addresses the Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) for all post-9/11 veterans and changes how MHA is paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  The changes alter payments for students attending satellite campuses to account for the cost of living in the city of their classes instead of the stipend received at the main campus. 
 
As the VA was unable to meet the previous implementation deadline of August 2018, Subcommittee Chair Mike Levin (D-CA) posed the question of whether the VA was prepared for the new December 1st implementation and how they had learned from previous mistakes.  Other committee members, including Representative Phil Roe (R-TN), also expressed concern about students who will be receiving less money and are not aware of the changes being made.  The VA has issued emails and used social media to bring attention to the new changes and will continue to work with schools to best relay the information.
 
In other veterans-related congressional news, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) remarked this past month that he hopes to include the Protect Veterans’ Education and Training Spending (VETS) Act in an upcoming HEA authorization.  Currently, as part of an institutional accountability metric called the 90/10 revenue rule, a for-profit institution must generate at least 10 percent of its revenue from non-federal sources, but VA education benefits and military tuition assistance are not counted as federal aid.  This has led to aggressive targeting of veterans and military by for-profit institutions.  The bill would count VA and military benefits under the calculation of federal revenue support, which has a 90 percent of revenue limit. 
 
Sources and Additional Information:
Senate Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Securing U.S. Research from China’s Talent Recruitment Plans
This past month, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s (HSGAC) Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) held a hearing entitled, “Securing the U.S. Research Enterprise from China’s Talent Recruitment Plans.”  The hearing included witnesses from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science, and the U.S. Department of State’s (State) Bureau of Consular Affairs.  In conjunction with the hearing, the PSI released a bipartisan staff report, Threats to the U.S. Research Enterprise: China’s Talent Recruitment Plans.  The committee also released two appendices with examples of talent recruitment contracts and case studies of recruitments.
 
The hearing focused primarily on the threat of foreign talent recruitment programs to federally funded research, and a major theme throughout was the slow recognition by the federal government and universities of the threat.  Policymakers asserted that participation in foreign talent recruitment programs incentivize participants to not disclose foreign sources of funding, set up “shadow labs,” recruit other individuals, and often require the signing of non-disclosure agreements, among other requirements.  Members and witnesses both noted how this stands in contrast to the norms and practices of the research community in the United States.
 
Given the bipartisan concern with foreign threats to the U.S. science enterprise, Senators on the committee seemed eager to introduce related legislation.  Potential areas that forthcoming legislation, policy, and regulations could address include harmonization among federal agencies around disclosures, restrictions on federal funding going to researchers involved in foreign talent programs, and increased disclosure requirements on sources of funding.
 
Sources and Additional Information:  
Legislative Bills of Note
  • S.2857 (Senator Carper, D-DE)- Protect Veterans’ Education and Taxpayer Spending Act of 2019.  This bill would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to count military and veterans’ education benefits as Federal educational assistance under the 90/10 rule.
  • S. 2928 (Senator Whitehouse, D-RI) - A bill to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to Reauthorize the University Sustainability Program.
  •  H.R. 4625 (Rep. Levin, D-CA) - Protect the GI Bill Act. This bill would require that educational institutions abide by certain principles as a condition of approval for purposes of the educational assistance programs of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
  • H.R. 5104 (Rep. Pocan, D-WI) - Respect Graduate Student Workers Act. This bill would ensure full labor protections for graduate student workers.
  • H.R. 5204 (Rep. Porter, D-CA) - To direct the Secretary of Education to Study Student Mental Health at Institutions of Higher Education and to Issue Guidance on Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Policies of Institutions of Higher Education, and For Other Purposes.
ADMINISTRATION AND AGENCY UPDATES AND NEWS

ED Updates College Scorecard

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced an updated and expanded College Scorecard.  ED expanded the College Scorecard to include program-level debt and earnings data and more extensive graduation rates.  In a press release accompanying the announcement, Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development James Blew stated, "I look forward to seeing how students, parents, and researchers alike use this new data to inform decision-making."  While many higher education observers agree that giving students more information is helpful, there is concern the Administration is using transparency to evade holding bad actors accountable.  One limitation of the data is only median first-year earnings for former students who received aid are published; earnings in some fields can start low but increase significantly over time.  Programs with low number of students are also excluded due to privacy concerns.  ED has announced that they hope to update the Scorecard annually.
 
Sources and Additional Information:
President Announces New Members to National Board on Education Sciences
President Trump announced the appointment of three new members to the National Board on Education Sciences (NBES): Joe May, Chancellor of the Dallas County Community College District; Chester Finn, Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Senior Fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution; and David J. Francis, Director of the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics and university chair at the University of Houston.  NBES, which last met in 2016, has not yet convened under the Trump Administration.  
 
Sources and Additional Information:  
Trump Administration Releases STEM Progress Report and ED Announces STEM Investments
The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released the “Progress Report on the Federal Implementation of the STEM Education Strategic Plan,” a document that serves as an annual progress report on efforts by the federal government to implement the federal five-year strategic plan for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education released in December 2018.  The five-year strategic plan has three goals: build strong foundations for STEM literacy; increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM; and prepare the STEM workforce of the future.  The report gathered information from all federal agencies that had investments in STEM education in fiscal year (FY) 2019 and concluded significant steps have been taken towards implementation of the plan through development of work plans and a conscious effort towards open communication across federal agencies to reduce duplication and fragmentation of federal STEM programs.  The report also stated internal and external stakeholders would be consulted regarding evidence-based practices in order to integrate these practices and disseminate them for broader reach as efforts to implement the five-year strategic plan for STEM education continue.
 
Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced it had invested $540 million to support STEM education through discretionary and research grants in FY 2019, in line with President Trump’s request to foster opportunities in STEM fields and OSTP’s five-year STEM education strategic plan.  Of the overall investment, nearly $345 million supported continuing grants, while approximately $200 million was made in new awards.  Regarding investment in STEM education, Secretary of Education Betsy Devos said, “this Administration continues to make strategic investments in STEM education and is working to ensure that all Americans’ access to high-quality STEM education no matter where they are in their life-long learning journeys.”
 
Sources and Additional Information:  
Department of Education Announces Revised Policy for Standard Term Length
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) Office of Postsecondary Education announced a revision to their policy for standard term length.  Standard term policy is important for institutions of higher education because those that use standard term academic calendars are subject to the least burdensome requirements for disbursement of student financial assistance under Title IV of the Higher Education Act.  The new standard term policy includes the following changes:
  • Semesters and trimesters may now be between 14 and 21 weeks of instruction;
  • Quarters may now be between 9 and 13 weeks of instruction; and
  • Standard terms are no longer required to be substantially equal.
ED stated the change in the standard term policy results from many institutions asking for increased flexibility to modify term length in order to better accommodate the needs of students.  The Department believes this change will “increase opportunities for institutions to offer unique and innovative academic programs, which are better catered toward workforce needs.”
 
Sources and Additional Information:
  • The Department of Education’s announcement of the revised policy for standard term length is available at https://bit.ly/2qhFLVQ

Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad Program Applications Open
The Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad Program recently opened applications for its 2020 summer programs.  The program provides short-term seminars abroad for U.S. social science and humanities educators to increase their understanding of other countries’ people and cultures.  After the summer program, teachers draw on their experiences to create new cross-cultural curricula for their classrooms.
 
In 2020, summer programs will be offered in Argentina (for elementary teachers), Israel (for secondary teachers), and Taiwan (for postsecondary teachers).  To be eligible to participate, applicants must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States, hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, have at least three years of full-time teaching or administrative experience by time of departure, be currently employed full-time as a teacher or administrator, and work at the grade level of the seminar.  Applications are due January 14, 2020.

Sources and Additional Information:

2020 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

Mayor Pete Buttigieg Releases College Affordability Plan
Pete Buttigieg, Democratic presidential candidate and Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, recently released an education plan focused on lowering the cost of college for working- and middle-class families.  The Buttigieg plan would invest $500 billion to make college free for public college students coming from families earning up to $100,000 and provide reduced tuition at public universities for families earning $100,000 to $150,000.
 
In addition to affordability measures, Mayor Buttigieg also proposed $50 billion in new investments in historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and minority-serving institutions (MSIs), as well as increased Pell Grants for students at public colleges and universities.

Sources and Additional Information:


FACTS AND FIGURES

Enrollment of International Students Drops for Second Year in a Row

Source: Institute of International Education. (2019). "International Student Enrollment Trends, 1948/49-2018/19." Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. Retrieved from http://www.iie.org/opendoors


WHAT WE'RE READING

Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce: "A First Try at ROI: Ranking 4,500 Colleges"
“As college costs and student loan debt continue to rise precipitously, more people are wondering if college is worth it. Based on earnings alone, yes, it is. On average, workers with a bachelor’s degree make 80 percent more than workers with no more than a high school diploma.  At the same time, the potential benefits, as well as the costs, vary notably by institution, program, and field of study, and students should be informed about the potential costs and benefits of their choices.”

Source: https://1gyhoq479ufd3yna29x7ubjn-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/College_ROI.pdf
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