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Higher Education Policy Newsletter

April 2, 2019 Lewis-Burke Associates LLC


While the college admissions scandal was making national headlines, federal higher education funding and Higher Education Act reauthorization efforts were also topics of concern for lawmakers.  Several members of Congress released statements on the admissions scandal and Representative Donna Shalala (D-FL) hosted a “Briefing on Inequity in Higher Education Following Recent College Admissions Scandal.”  The panelists noted that the scandal highlights the inequities that exist in higher education access and completion and the need for increased support for public institutions and transparency around outcomes.  Most notably, Rep. Shalala noted that she did believe that additional federal regulations were necessary to respond to this issue.
President Trump’s fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget request (more details below), was accompanied by “Proposals To Reform The Higher Education Act.”  The proposals are the most significant detailing of the Administration’s higher education priorities.  The proposal notes, “Unfortunately, many colleges and universities have been unable or unwilling to provide the necessary types of education in a cost-effective manner.”  A more detailed analysis of the proposals can be found below.  Finally, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is heading into the home stretch of its negotiated rulemaking, with the main “Accreditation and Innovation” committee wrapping up its work on April 3.  At a hearing on ED’s budget, Secretary DeVos noted that final rules will likely not be ready before the end of May.  Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) noted that ED’s intention to finalize higher education regulations may negatively impact the current bipartisan Higher Education Act (HEA) negotiations occurring in the Senate.



HEA Hearings Underway

ED Budget Request Hearing

Legislative Bills of Note


President Releases FY 2020 Budget for ED

White House Releases HEA Proposals

White House Executive Order on Free Speech


IES Solicits Comments on Proposed Priorities

eacher Quality Partnership Application Announced


Educational Attainment and Labor Underutilization


Don’t Stop Believin’


HEA Hearings Underway
Education committees in the House and Senate held several hearings last month as part of efforts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA).  The House Committee on Education and Labor’s first higher education hearing of the 116th Congress, “The Cost of College: Student Centered Reforms to Bring Higher Education Within Reach,” explored ways to address college costs, including proposals to increase state investment in higher education and reduce the costs of student loans.  Committee Chair Bobby Scott (D-VA) noted the importance of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program during the hearing.  The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing, “Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Simplifying the FAFSA and Reducing the Burden of Verification,” on March 12.  Free Applications for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) simplification has been a priority of several senators and enjoys bipartisan support, making it likely that the final HEA reauthorization bill will include some element of FAFSA simplification.  Other issues discussed during the hearing addressed the burden of verification on institutions and students and the importance of campus aid programs in holding down costs.  HEA reauthorization was also addressed by the budget committees, which is discussed in the article below.

Sources and Additional Information: Secretary DeVos Testifies on ED’s Budget Request
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently testified before the House’s Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (House Labor-H) and the Senate’s Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Senate Labor-H).  Secretary DeVos’ testimony before these committees is part of the annual process of determining funding for the Department of Education (ED) and other federal agencies.  Secretary DeVos received bipartisan criticism of proposals to consolidate and eliminate funding for TRIO and Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) programs.  The House Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey (D-NY) observed that the proposed cuts to education programs would “decrease diversity of STEM fields.”  The House Labor-H Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) observed in her opening statement, “This budget underfunds education at every turn—from early childhood education, K-12 education, postsecondary education through workforce training.” 

At the Senate Labor-H hearing, Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) both expressed a need for better communication from ED as it relates to responding to Member requests for information.  Both Ranking Member Murray and Senator Alexander (R-TN) spoke about the bipartisan interest in a Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization (both members are the leading members of the Senate committee responsible for HEA).  Ranking Member Murray stated that ED’s current higher education rulemaking, however, threatens the possibility of bipartisan negotiations.  Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) indicated he is working to introduce a bill that would replace interest on student loans with a one-time fee that would support loan servicing.  Members on both the House and Senate Labor-H committees expressed support for making Pell grant funds eligible for short-term programs, but noting the need for guardrails.

Sources and Additional Information: Legislative Bills of Note
  • H.R. 1571 (Rep. Pocan, D-WI-2), S. 672 (Senator Schatz, D-HI)- Debt-Free College Act of 2019. This bill would establish state-federal partnerships to provide students the opportunity to attend in-state public institutions without debt and provide DREAMers with federal Pell grant eligibility, among other issues.  The purpose of this bill is for students to be debt-free rather than tuition-free, therefore it includes coverage for living expenses as well.  Senator Schatz hopes that this bill will be considered as part of the Higher Education Act reauthorization.
  • H.R. 1707 (Rep. Courtney, D-CT-2), S. 768 (Senator Warren, D-MA)- Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act- This bill would amend the Higher Education Act to allow eligible borrowers to refinance their loans—public or private— to the lower rates offered to new federal borrowers through amending the Higher Education Act.  The bill would also allow graduate and parent borrowers to reduce monthly payments by refinancing to competitive rates.  This bill was mentioned during the March 13 House Education & Labor full committee hearing, “The Cost of College: Student Centered Reforms to Bring Higher Education Within Reach.”
  • H.R. 1672 (Rep. Rooney, R-FL-19), Free Right to Expression in Education Act- This bill would amend the Higher Education Act to protect freedom of speech in outdoor areas on campus, which was introduced the week before President Trump announced his Executive Order, “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities.”  The bill would eliminate “free speech zones” on college campuses, as Rep. Rooney argues that having delineated areas on campus where free speech is allows is an “oxymoron.”
  • H.R. 1724 (Rep. Clark, D-MA-5), S. 789 (Senator Murray, D-WA), Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act of 2019- This bill would amend the Higher Education Act to improve accessibility to higher education for homeless and foster youth, which includes streamlining the process of financial aid, helping students gain access housing, and designating a higher education liaison, among other issues.
  • H.R. 1766 (Rep. Mitchell, R-MI-10), S. 800 (Senator Cassidy, R-LA), College Transparency Act- This bill would make it easier to link postsecondary student outcome data by overturning the ban on a postsecondary student-unit record system and modernizing the college reporting system.  This bipartisan legislation would provide postsecondary information, such as enrollment, completion, and post-college success, for students and families to consider higher education opportunities.
  • S. 830 (Senator Gillibrand, D-NY)- Classroom to Careers Act- This bipartisan bill would expand the federal-work study program to allow students to have full-time jobs in their careers of study on campus, rather than limiting students to part-time administrative jobs.  Senator Gillibrand and Senator Toomey (R-PA) hope this shift will give students valuable full or part-time employment experience while also preparing them in their areas of study.
  • S. 887, S. 888, S. 889 (Senator Grassley, R-IA)- Senator Grassley introduced three bills in the Senate last week that aim to streamline and clarify student loans, financial aid, and college costs.
    • Know Before You Owe Federal Student Loan Act would improve counseling requirements, including timely and relevant information, for students about loan borrowing.
    • Understanding the True Cost of College Act would require a standard financial aid offer form to make sure that offer letters are clear and standard across colleges and universities.
    • Net Price Calculator Improvement Act would amend the Higher Education Act to make technical improvements to the New Price Calculator system and create a central website for students to compare estimates of their net price across multiple colleges at the same time.


President Releases Proposed FY 2020 Budget for ED
In mid-March, President Trump released his fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget request to Congress, which would cut the discretionary programs within the Department of Education (ED) by $8.5 billion (-12.0%) compared to the FY 2019 enacted level, including the cancellation of $2.0 billion of unobligated balances in the Pell Grant program. 

While the budget request would maintain the maximum Pell Grant award at $6,195 for the 2020-2021 school year, it proposes significant cuts to student aid and competitive grant programs.  The budget proposes to more than half the Federal Work Study (FWS) program with a cut of approximately $630 million.  The Administration also proposes to revise the current institutional allocation formula for FWS funding, based on an institution’s level of Pell-eligible students, and focus FWS on workforce and career-oriented training opportunities. The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) program would be eliminated.

The budget request would eliminate the Subsidized Stafford loan program for loans originating after July 1, 2020.  The budget also proposes to streamline and replace current income-driven loan repayment plans with a single plan with an increased monthly payment cap of 12.5 percent of discretionary income.  Additionally, the budget request would eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program for new loans originating after July 1, 2020.

The President’s FY 2020 request also proposes eliminations to several competitive grant programs, such as the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), the Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grant program, and the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) program. 

Following last year’s Administrative proposal, the FY 2020 budget recommends consolidating six existing minority serving institution programs under Title III and Title V, including Developing HSIs and Strengthening Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving Institutions program, into a single consolidated Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI) grant program.  

The FY 2020 budget request would cut funding for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) overall by nearly $94 million from the FY 2019 enacted level.  While Research, Development, and Dissemination activities and special education research would have small reductions, the budget proposes eliminating funding for the Regional Educational Laboratories and Statewide longitudinal data systems. 
In terms of increased interest by the Trump Administration, the request would provide $300 million, a $170 million increase, for the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) grant program that supports evidence-based innovations in classroom instruction. teacher development, and K-12 student achievement.  Of the requested amount, $100 million would be directed toward innovation and reform in support of STEM education.  The Department’s interests also include expansion of Pell to short-term programs.

Sources and Additional Information:
White House Releases HEA Proposals
Included with President Trump’s fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget request were “Proposals To Reform The Higher Education Act.”  The proposal refers to $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, the Administration’s efforts at higher education regulatory reform, and states, “The Trump Administration is committed to reforming higher education through legislation and regulatory reforms that provide more Americans access to a quality education, hold institutions accountable, and help students and families make informed decisions regarding their educational options.”  The proposal's principles center on:
  • “Reorient the Accreditation Process to Focus on Student Outcomes;
  •  Increase Innovation in the Education Marketplace;
  • Better Align Education to the Needs of Today’s Workforce;
  • Increase Institutional Accountability;
  • Accelerate Program Completion;
  • Support Historically Black Colleges and Universities;
  • Encourage Responsible Borrowing;
  • Simplify Student Aid;
  • Support Returning Citizens; and
  • Give Prospective Students More Meaningful and Useful Information about Schools and Programs.”
The proposal's main thrusts are the creation of a risk-sharing system that would “require postsecondary institutions that accept taxpayer funds to share in the financial responsibility associated with student loans.”  The other significant proposal is to provide students with “program-level earnings and outcome data they need to make better informed choices about potential careers and educational opportunities.”  This is an effort that the Department of Education (ED) is currently working on and would add to the institutional data available on the College Scorecard.  Also included are proposals to institute loan limits for student borrowers, reforms of the Federal Work-Study program, and proposed streamlining of accreditation standards, among other proposals.  Several of the proposals are currently being addressed by ED’s higher education negotiated rulemaking.  Many of these changes would require action by Congress, likely through a Higher Education Act reauthorization.

White House Announces Executive Order on Campus Free Speech and Student Outcomes
On March 21, President Trump announced a new Executive Order (EO), “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities,” aimed at promoting First Amendment compliance on campuses and expanding transparency in regard to student educational outcomes and student loan debt.  The EO directs numerous federal agencies to coordinate with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to ensure that higher education institutions receiving federal research or education grants promote free inquiry and comply with the First Amendment and related federal laws and regulations. 

A policy statement in the EO highlights the applicability of “compliance with the First Amendment for public institutions and compliance with stated institutional policies regarding freedom of speech for private institutions.”  The directive does not delve into specific free speech compliance mandates nor mentions any associated penalties, such as loss of research funding, as mentioned in previous press reports.  The order does not apply to student aid programs that cover tuition, fees, or stipends.

The EO does offer more specific detail on the Administration’s interest in transparency and higher education accountability.  The order directs the Department of Education (ED) to develop an online portal for federal loan borrowers.  Additionally, it calls on ED to expand the College Scorecard to include program-level data on median earnings of graduates who borrowed; median debt broken down by Stafford loans, Graduate PLUS, and Parent PLUS loans; and loan default and repayment rates.

The White House also calls on the Secretaries of Education and Treasury, along with others, to report “policy options for sharing the risk associated with Federal student loan debt among the Federal Government, institutions, and other entities” by January 1, 2020.  The Secretary of Education is also tasked with reporting on how states and institutions successfully facilitate transfer of credit, increase access to dual enrollment, and increase student success among high-need students.  The EO, in conjunction with the “Proposals To Reform The Higher Education Act” that accompanied President Trump’s fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget request, are the clearest indicators of the Administration’s ambitions for a Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization.  These proposals will impact HEA negotiations currently underway in Congress.

Sources and Additional Information:  
IES Solicits Comments on Proposed Priorities
The Department of Education’s (ED) Institute of Education Sciences (IES) announced proposed research and evaluation priorities and objectives to guide the Institute in the administration of its competitive grant programs.  The notice offers some perspective on IES’s changing thrusts under leadership of Director Mark Schneider, including research outcome priorities in the areas of infancy to the pre-school, kindergarten through 12th grade, and post-secondary education.  Another current interest of the Institute is increasing access and utilization of its studies among the practitioner community.  The notice includes priorities to expand research dissemination.  

The notice also emphasizes IES’ interest in researchers following the Standards for Excellence in Education Research (SEER) Principles, a new priority of IES leadership  The SEER Principles encourage scholars to: pre-register studies, allow for open access to data and methodology, clearly identify intervention components, document implementation and challenges, focus on meaningful outcomes for student success, analyze the costs and effectiveness of interventions, and consider strategies on scaling and transferability of interventions.  Comments are due on or before May 28, 2019. 

Sources and Additional Information:
Teacher Quality Partnership Application Announced
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) released the pre-publication notice inviting applications (NIA) for the fiscal year (FY) 2019 Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) Grant Program.  The TQP program aims to increase student achievement by improving the quality of new prospective teachers by creating partnerships among institutions of higher education and local educational agencies (LEAs). 

For this year’s competition, ED “will only support projects that prepare teachers through the implementation of teacher residency programs.”  The two Competitive Preference Priorities are:  
  • Competitive Preference Priority 1: “Projects designed to improve student achievement or other educational outcomes in computer science”
  • Competitive Preference Priority 2: "Novice Applicants"
The FY 2019 competition also includes an Invitational Priority focused on spurring investment in Opportunity Zones, which is a new tax relief designation designed to incentivize investment in certain economically distressed communities that began under the 2017 tax reform law. 

Total Funding and Award Size:  The estimated number of awards for this competition is 15-20.  The estimated average size of awards is $750,000 with no award exceeding $1.5 million.  The project period may not exceed 60 months.

Eligibility and Limitations: An eligible applicant is an “eligible partnership” that includes:
  1. A high-need LEA;
  2. A high-need school or a consortium of high-need schools served by the high-need LEA, or, as applicable, a high-need ECE program;
  3. A partner institution; (an institution of higher education)
  4. A school, department, or program of education within such partner institution, which may include an existing teacher professional development program with proven outcomes within a four-year IHE that provides intensive and sustained collaboration between faculty and LEAs consistent with the requirements of title II of the HEA; and
  5. A school or department of arts and sciences within such partner institution
  6. And may also include state entities, businesses, nonprofit organizations, charter schools, school or department within a partner institution, or an entity providing alternative routes to State certification of teachers.
Matching Requirements: A match from non-Federal sources of an amount equal to 100 percent of the grant, in cash or in-kind, is required.

Due Dates: Applicants are encouraged to submit a notice of intent within 30 days of the publication of the application. Full proposals will be due 45 days from official publication in the Federal Register, anticipated to be April 3, 2019

Sources and Additional Background:


National Center for Education Statistics (NCES): Relationship Between Educational Attainment and Labor Underutilization



U.S. House Committee On Education And Labor Report: Don’t Stop Believin’ (in the value of a college degree)
“The next HEA reauthorization must focus on expanding access to students who have been traditionally underserved by colleges and universities, improving affordability, and closing inequities in completion so that all Americans can achieve their educational and economic goals.”

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