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Higher Education Policy Newsletter

May 4, 2021 — Lewis-Burke Associates LLC

President Biden has been making big headlines for higher education over the last few weeks.  The White House released its first budget blueprint to Congress in early April, offering a peek into the new President’s priorities.  While the full budget request with additional details will not be released until mid-May, the initial budget framework proposed boosting funding for the Department of Education (ED) to $102.8 billion, a 41 percent increase over fiscal year (FY) 2021 levels.  While light on details for higher education specifically, the FY 2022 budget request proposes a $400 increase to the maximum Pell Grant award—currently set at $6,495—and suggests making Pell Grants available to students who are Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.  Further, it calls for more than $600 million in additional funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities (TCCUs), Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), and community colleges. 

President Biden also announced at the end of April his $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, the second of his two massive stimulus proposals that outlines significant investments in pre-school, child nutrition, community colleges, and healthcare spending.  The likelihood of passing the American Families Plan, which is detailed further below, as well as President Biden’s earlier infrastructure and workforce proposal, the American Jobs Plan, remains uncertain.  Congress will now have to translate the American Families Plan into legislation, filling in specific details on how to implement the broad outline.  The American Families Plan has already incurred strong Republican pushback with questions being raised on the trillions already spent through the various COVID-19 aid packages this past year.  With a bipartisan deal unlikely, congressional Democratic leadership will need to decide whether to use the policy-limited budget reconciliation process, requiring only a simple majority, to move the proposals outlined under these stimulus plans.  

While the higher education community awaits congressional action on a new stimulus package or two, institutions are still waiting for details from ED on the third round of Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) dollars that were included in the American Rescue Plan, the COVID-19 relief bill passed earlier this year.  The HEERF III allocations are due to be released very soon.  



Congress Turns Attention to Higher Education 
Accessibility to high-quality postsecondary education was top of mind for many members of Congress this month.  During a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing titled “Building Capacity, Building Community: Increasing Investments in Community Colleges,” members of the committee were overwhelmingly supportive of and indicated they want to increase investments in community colleges.  Additionally, the hearing focused on the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCT) program and its successor, the Strengthening Community Colleges program; ways community colleges can support workforce development; strategies to improve transfer between community colleges and four-year institutions; how community colleges need more funds for student support services; and how community colleges would benefit from the expansion of the Pell Grant to short term programs.  Further demonstrating this interest, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) recently introduced the College for All Act.  This legislation would eliminate tuition and fees for families making up to $125,000 at public institutions of higher education.  

The House Education and Labor Committee also held a hearing titled, “For-Profit College Conversions: Examining Ways to Improve Accountability and Prevent Fraud.”  This hearing focused on the need for increased federal oversight of for-profit colleges that convert to non-profit institutions.  Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) discussed how the College Affordability Act, which was introduced last Congress, included several provisions to further regulate the process of transitioning from for-profit to non-profit status.  Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-NC) voiced skepticism that this issue, which she viewed as very narrow in its applicability to most postsecondary students, was what the committee needed to be focused on at this moment in time.  As the national conversation around economic recovery from COVID-19 continues, we can expect to see increased attention focused on the accessibility of high-quality higher education and its role in workforce development. 

Congress Takes Up Workforce Development 
As the economy continues to recover from the pandemic, policymakers are looking at ways to address issues related to workforce development, including the long-term unemployed.  Both committees in Congress with oversight of workforce development have expressed their interest in developing solutions to update and expand workforce training programs.  The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held a hearing in April on modernizing workforce training through education and training in the context of a COVID-19 recovery.  During the hearing, committee members and witnesses spoke to the reality of future job growth being in high-skill fields; the need for better systems in place to connect job seekers, employers, and education and training; and avoiding a “skills vs degrees” debate, among other topics.  In the other chamber of Congress, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Education and Labor released a statement noting “the start of a bipartisan effort to reauthorize the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which is the nation’s primary federal workforce development legislation.” 

Secretaries of the Department of Labor (DOL) and Department of Education (ED) are also likely to face questions about workforce development and education during hearings on the fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget request for their respective agencies.  During a hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee with oversight of the DOL, committee members and DOL Secretary Marty Walsh spoke to the importance of sector-based training, apprenticeships, and partnerships between institutions of higher education and employers.  With Congress considering the National Apprenticeship Act, WIOA, workforce development proposals in the American Jobs Plan, and FY 2022 funding for ED and DOL, there will be several opportunities to address higher education and workforce development.

Legislative Bills of Note 

  • S.1225 (Senator Chris Murphy, D-CT)- Standardization of Collegiate Oversight of Revenues and Expenditures (SCORE) Act.  A bill to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to require institutions of higher education to report revenue generated by each sports team, and for other purposes.  The full press release from Senator Murphy can be found here.
  • S. 1288 (Senator Bernie Sanders, I-VT)- College for All Act.  The legislation would guarantee tuition-free community college for all students, allow students from families earning under $125,000 a year to attend public colleges and universities tuition-free and debt-free or can attend tuition-free and debt-free a public and private, non-profit Minority-Serving Institution (MSI) or Historic Black College and University (HBCU).  The full press release from Senator Sanders can be found here.
  • H.R. 2877 (Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-GA)- Behavioral Intervention Guidelines (BIG) Act.  This legislation would amend the Public Health Service Act to direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop best practices for the establishment and use of behavioral intervention teams at schools.  The full press release from Rep. Ferguson can be found here.

Biden Announces American Families Plan    
On April 28, President Biden announced a $1.8 trillion proposal, the American Families Plan, to invest in childcare, education, and healthcare.  The American Families Plan outlines massive investments in pre-school, child nutrition, community colleges, Pell Grants, and healthcare spending.  This plan builds upon the President’s American Jobs Plan announced in late March, which focused on infrastructure, climate action, workforce development, and global competitiveness.  Key highlights of note for academic and healthcare communities in the American Families Plan include: 

  • $109 billion to make two years of community college education free. 
  • $80 billion to increase the maximum Pell Grant by $1,400. 
  • $62 billion for retention and completion programs at colleges that serve large numbers of low-income students. 
  • $39 billion to subsidize tuition at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority-serving institutions. 
  • $200 billion to expand the Affordable Care Act’s premium tax credits. 
  • Significant tax changes for high-earners to generate $1.5 trillion to partially offset the Plan costs. 

Lewis-Burke’s longer analysis, which offers further details on the American Families Plan’s proposals of interest to the education and healthcare communities, can be found here.

HELP Committee Holds Confirmation Hearing for ED Undersecretary, Agency Staffs Up   
Undersecretary of Education nominee James Kvaal testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, the first step towards Senate confirmation.  In his opening remarks, Mr. Kvaal spoke about the need to address the student loan “crisis” by both providing relief to current borrowers while also fixing the system to support future students.  He also highlighted the need to increase college affordability for the middle class, including by making additional investments in community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Minority-Serving Institutions.  HELP Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) and other Democrats questioned Mr. Kvaal on his plans to support college affordability and access, particularly for students of color.  Mr. Kvaal highlighted Biden Administration proposals to provide relief for current student loan debts, increase Pell Grants and other affordability measures, and support for investment in institutions that serve the highest proportion of low-income and underrepresented students.  Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC) and other Republicans expressed support for college affordability measures but pushed back on proposals to forgive student loan debts or provide free college tuition, raising concerns that these proposals would not solve future affordability issues or unfairly punish states that invest in higher education affordability.  In response, Mr. Kvaal underscored the Administration’s position that higher education reform must address both current borrowers and future students and promised to work with committee members to craft policies that would not penalize states that have maintained funding for higher education.  At the conclusion of the hearing, Ranking Member Burr expressed his belief that Mr. Kvaal would be successfully confirmed, although a confirmation vote will not be scheduled until after the Senate returns from recess on May 10.  

In addition to James Kvaal, the Biden Administration continues to staff up the U.S. Department of Education (ED).  President Biden nominated Roberto Rodríguez to be Assistant Secretary of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development and nominated Gwen Graham to be Assistant Secretary for Legislation and Congressional Affairs.  ED also announced a number of appointments, including Dr. Amy Loyd to be Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Strategic Initiatives, Rachel Bird Niebling to be Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs, and Richard Cordray to be Chief Operating Officers of Student Financial Aid.

Office of Civil Rights Announces Review and Solicit of Comments of Title IX Regulations  
The Department of Education’s (ED) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a letter to students, educators, and stakeholders on April 6 to announce the ongoing review of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and that the ED plans to solicit public comment on the current Title IX regulations.  This move by the Department is in accordance with the Executive Order on Guaranteeing an Educational Environment Free from Discrimination on the Basis of Sex, Including Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity signed by President Biden on March 8.  This review and the eventual proposed changes to Title IX have been a priority for the Biden-Harris Administration since their campaign.  The Biden Administration is looking to reverse many of the controversial changes made by ED under the Trump Administration.  ED states that this review supports their “commitment to ensuring equal and nondiscriminatory access to education for students in schools across the nation” throughout all educational institutions.  OCR is seeking to gather feedback from “as many interested parties as possible”.  A question-and-answer document regarding submitting comments will be made available in the coming weeks, and OCR is planning to host a public hearing for those interested in submitting comments.  Information for the hearing will be posted here in the coming weeks.

ED Continues COVID-19 Relief and Guidance Releases 
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) continues to distribute funding provided by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP), including $81 billion of $122 billion included in ARP's Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding.  States will be able to use these funds to safely reopen schools for in-person learning; meet student and educators' social, emotional, and mental health needs; and invest in strategies to address lost instructional time, among other uses.  ED has also released a State Plan application for states to access the additional $41 billion in relief funds, to be released this summer and available to support the 2021-22 school year and beyond.  ED is in the process of releasing $40 billion in emergency relief for institutions of higher education included in the ARP. 

ED has also released guidance on Maintenance of Effort (MOE) requirements and MOE waiver requests for funding provided via COVID-19 relief bills.  MOE provisions require states to maintain support for higher education in order to be eligible for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funding.  

Open Funding Opportunities

OPE Releases NIA for the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs   
The Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE) within the Department of Education (ED) has issued a notice inviting applications (NIA) for new awards under the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP).  The GEAR UP program focuses on assisting low-income and disabled students in receiving their secondary school diploma and succeeding in postsecondary education.  Priorities of the NIA include: 
  • Competitive Preference Priority 1: Fostering Flexible and Affordable Paths to Obtaining Knowledge and Skills 
  • Competitive Preference Priority 2: Promising Evidence 
    • Invitational Priority 1: Building Capacity for Remote Learning 
    • Invitational Priority 2: Addressing the Impact of COVID–19 on Students’ Mental Health and Academic Outcomes 
    • Invitational Priority 3: Providing GEAR UP Services to Schools Located in Rural Areas 
Award eligibility is open to states and partnerships consisting of at least one institution of higher education (IHE) and at least one local educational agency (LEA).  ED is estimating granting 28 awards with an average size of funding of $1.2 million for a period of performance of 72 or 84 months.  Applications are due no later than June 28, 2021.  More information and the full NIA can be found on under funding opportunity number “ED-GRANTS-042921-001" or here for GEAR UP Partnership grants or under “ED-GRANTS-042921-002” or here for GEAR UP State Grants.  The GEAR UP program page with further technical details can be found here

OPE Announces FY 2021 Awards for Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) STEM and Articulation Program  
The Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE) within the Department of Education (ED) has issued a notice inviting applications (NIA) for fiscal year (FY) 2021 awards under the Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) STEM and Articulation Program.  The program’s goal is to increase the number of Hispanic students obtaining degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields at Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), as well as develop transfer programs at two-year HSIs and four-year institutions in those fields.  The program focuses on how best to promote student success, especially for low-income Hispanic students.  The NIA contains multiple priorities, including: 
  • Competitive Preference Priority 1: Fostering Flexible and Affordable Paths to Obtaining Knowledge and Skills  
  • Competitive Preference Priority 2: Academic Achievement and Retention Strategies 
    • Invitational Priority: Providing Student Supports for Addressing the Impact of COVID–19 on Students’ Mental Health and Academic Outcomes 
Only Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) that are eligible HSIs can apply for this grant.  OPE will grant an estimated 96 awards with a project period of up to 60 months and funding amount to range between $700,000 and $1 million per year.  Applications are due no later than June 14, 2021.  The full NIA can be found on under funding opportunity number “ED-GRANTS-043021-001" or here.

NSF Announces Racial Equity in STEM Education Program 
The National Science Foundation (NSF) Education and Human Resources Directorate (EHR) recently announced the Racial Equity in STEM Education Program.  Through this program, NSF will support bold and transformative fundamental and applied research on racial inequality and systemic racism in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.  Research can focus on a number of STEM education contexts, including K-12, undergraduate, graduate, and informal STEM education as well as STEM workplaces.  Proposals must be led by or developed with communities that are impacted by systemic racism and their experiences must be central to the proposal for it to be competitive. The first application deadline for this program is July 13, 2021. It is recommended applicants submit a one-page concept paper to ahead of submitting a proposal.  Informational webinars will be held on May 4, 5, and 7, 2021.  Additional details on the program and the upcoming webinars can be found here.

ED Releases NIA for Personnel Development to Improve Services and Results for Children with Disabilities Program  
The Department of Education’s (ED) Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) has announced a notice inviting applications (NIA) for the fiscal year (FY) 2021 Personnel Development to Improve Services and Results for Children with Disabilities program.  The program is looking to address state-identified needs for personnel preparation in special education, early intervention, related services, and regular education to work with children, including infants and toddlers, with disabilities.  The NIA includes two absolute priorities and two competitive priorities: 
  • Absolute Priority 1: Preparation of Special Education, Early Intervention, and Related Services Faculty 
  • Absolute Priority 2: Preparation of Special Education and Early Intervention Administrators 
    • Competitive Priority 1: Application proposes a partnership consisting of two or three Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) in a high-need area of leadership shortages. 
    • Competitive Priority 2: Demonstrate applicant has not had an active discretionary grant under the program from which it seeks funds. 
Additional details of each priority can be found in the full NIA announcement.  IHEs and private nonprofit organizations are eligible to apply.  ED plans on granting up to 19 awards for individual IHEs with a period of performance of up to 60 months.  ED intends to fund in FY 2021 at least 13 individual IHE applications meeting the requirements under Absolute Priority 1 and 6 high-quality individual IHE applications meeting the requirements under Absolute Priority 2.  Estimated average size of awards under this competition are $225,000-$250,000 per year for an individual IHE; $450,000-$500,000 per year for a two-IHE group application; and $675,000-$750,000 for a three-IHE group application.  Applications will be made available here on April 8, 2021 and will be due for submission no later than June 7, 2021.  The full unpublished version of the NIA announcement can be found here.

FACTS AND FIGURES: GAO Report: COVID-19: Emergency Financial Aid for College Students under the CARES Act 


ACE Issue Brief on Requiring COVID-19 Vaccinations
“Even though these vaccines are currently being offered only under the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization, the legal right of institutions to require COVID-19 vaccination for students seems likely to be upheld as vaccine availability increases. In this regard, mandated COVID-19 vaccinations may align with existing flu vaccine requirements for students on a number of campuses from coast to coast. Last December, 105 years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a constitutional challenge to a Cambridge, Massachusetts regulation ordering its residents to be vaccinated against smallpox, a California court ruled that a flu vaccine mandate for public college students is legally permissible.” 

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