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Higher Education Policy Newsletter

March 2, 2021 — Lewis-Burke Associates LLC


Spring brings with it several new faces to the U.S. Department of Education (ED), as the Biden Administration continues to nominate officials and name figures to the Department who will not need Senate confirmation.  Miguel Cardona was confirmed by the Senate on March 1, as the U.S Secretary of Education.  Other key officials awaiting confirmation include Cindy Marten for Deputy Secretary and James Kvaal for Under Secretary.  Issues facing these new appointees include responding to a pledge by President Biden to reopen schools, implementation of COVID-19 relief packages passed by Congress, developing a fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget for ED, and addressing the regulatory shift that occurred under the previous administration. 

Major education policy efforts that continue to attract attention include student loan debt forgiveness, efforts to double the Pell Grant, and a push for tuition free community college.  President Biden has stated his support for student loan debt relief but has noted the need for the U.S. Department of Justice to review the ability to forgive federal student loans via executive action.  President Biden has stated his preference for student debt forgiveness to occur via congressional action.  His strong support for $10,000 in debt forgiveness is lower than calls for $50,000 in forgiveness championed by some in the Democratic Party.  Community efforts to double the maximum Pell Grant award have also increased, though mention of this effort by policymakers has been muted.  Finally, calls for tuition-free community college continued to be issued by members of the Administration.  A federal effort to support “free community college” would likely build off of state and local college promise programs.  First Lady Dr. Jill Biden also recently shared plans to host a community college summit at the White House sometime in the future. 

Congress continues its efforts to pass additional COVID-19 relief, with a $1.9 trillion relief package on track to pass Congress this month.  The bill includes funding for K-12 and higher education, with more details below. 



House Passes $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan  
The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed H.R. 1319, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which provides $1.9 trillion in COVID-19 relief.  The bill utilizes the budget reconciliation process, a legislative procedure that allows a bill to pass with a simple majority in the Senate.  Upon passage of the bill by the House, Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee Bobby Scott (D-VA), noted “The American Rescue Plan provides schools with the resources they need to re-open safely, protect students and staff, and make up for lost time in the classroom.  It directs urgently needed relief to institutions of higher education, child care providers, and the essential workers who have worked throughout this pandemic but still cannot provide for themselves or their families.”

Key provisions of the bill include: 

  • $39.5 billion for a third round of Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF), available through September 2023, with 91 percent directed to non-profit institutions of higher education and 1 percent for for-profits, with similar distribution formulas as HEERF II funding.  An additional 8 percent would be slated for HBCUs, Minority-Serving Institutions, and institutions with most unmeet need.  Bringing back a requirement under the CARES Act HEERF I funds, the bill would direct 50 percent of distribution to be spend on direct student grants with guidance that an institution shall solely determine which students receive emergency financial aid grants.  For the institutional share, the bill defines a new use for a portion of funds to support practices to mitigate and suppress coronavirus and conduct outreach to students on available financial aid adjustments.  The bill would drop the HEERF II requirement that limited allowable uses by private institutions subject to the endowment tax. 
  • $100 million for the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) “to carry out research related to addressing learning loss caused by the coronavirus.” 
  • $128.5 billion for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, of which 90 percent is slated for Local Education Agencies (LEAs), with a portion dedicated toward learning loss, and not less than 5 percent for states to spend addressing learning loss by supporting evidence-based interventions. 
  • $40 billion in total for Child Care and Development Block grant programs, with $1 billion for Head Start programs. 
  • $600 million for the National Science Foundation’s Research and Related Activities Account for COVID-related research relief.  
  • $200 million Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).  
  • $135 million each for the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts, with 40 percent of those funds toward state councils and agencies and 60 percent toward direct grants.  
A full analysis from Lewis-Burke Associates be can found here.

Name, Image, and Likeness Legislation Reintroduced  
At a recent webinar titled “Future of College Sports: Reimagining Athletes’ Rights,” Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Congresswoman Lori Trahan (D-MA) discussed their bills that deal with the issue of name, image, and likeness (NIL) in college athletics.  The College Athlete Bill of Rights, expected to be reintroduced by Senator Booker in the near future, is thought to be broader than Congresswoman Trahan’s, guaranteeing NCAA players monetary compensation, long-term health care, lifetime educational scholarships, and revenue sharing.  Booker, a former Stanford football player, discussed the necessity of this legislation believing that the implementation of NIL will not change the game and that the NCAA, a $15 billion per year industry who has been under recent scrutiny from both sides of the aisle, can afford to give college students revenue.  Many have questioned the revenue sharing piece and have argued that it would hurt universities, but Booker stated that “It will not affect colleges that do not have significant revenue” and that the bill calls for a “share 50% of revenue with the players after deducting the cost of the scholarships for players”.  A cost for universities that spend millions of athletic facilities can handle says Booker. 

Congresswoman Trahan, alongside Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), has introduced similar NIL legislation called the College Athlete Economic Freedom Act without revenue sharing, making the basis of the bill to allow NCAA athletes to make money off of NIL individually or collectively.  Trahan, a former Georgetown volleyball player, told her story of being asked to work a volleyball camp in the off-season, which would include using her name and position to bring in campers.  She had to decline because she would have been using her name for revenue, forcing her and other athletes to take jobs in non-athletic industries so they were not breaking NCAA rules.  The legislation also gives athletes’ the right to sue in federal court and seek monetary damages if they believe the NCAA or university were not following the bill’s provisions if passed.  Both Booker and Trahan did highlight the urgency of passing NIL in late spring or early summer so that universal guidelines can be set in place prior to the beginning of NIL guidelines beginning in Florida on July 1, 2021.   

Congress Shines Spotlight on Digital Divide in Education
The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee recently held a hearing titled “Connecting America: Broadband Solutions to Pandemic Problems.”  During the hearing, members of the subcommittee emphasized broadband as an equity issue for students attempting to complete schoolwork and indicated they are going to use the upcoming infrastructure bill to make large investments in broadband deployment and adoption so that American families have universal broadband access.  Hearing participants also raised the issue of some low-income families only having one internet accessible device and the challenges that poses to families with multiple people trying to work and learn online.  Members of the subcommittee emphasized the importance of outreach regarding the newly created Emergency Broadband Benefit Program to postsecondary students and their families because students who received Pell Grants are eligible for the $50 a month broadband subsidy created by the program.  There was bipartisan agreement on the need to support further development of the 5G workforce, including through apprenticeships and other learning opportunities that ensure students are job ready upon graduation. 

In addition to the congressional activity regarding the digital divide, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently held a roundtable with HBCU Presidents to discuss the impact of the digital divide on their campuses and surrounding communities.  While most of the attention on the digital divide thus far has been in the K-12 space, these recent federal actions indicate growing attention to the impact the digital divide has on postsecondary students and educators.  We expect this interest to grow and further action to be taken to help students of all ages access the devices and broadband connection needed to successfully pursue their education.  

Legislative Bills of Note 

  • H.R. 1197 (Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-AZ)-  Teacher Diversity and Retention Act.  This legislation would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to establish the Honorable Augustus F. Hawkins Centers of Excellence to prepare current and future minority teachers or school leaders to be profession-ready.  The full press release from Congressman Gallego can be found here
  • S. 457 (Senator Cory Booker, D-NJ)- Partnering Aspiring Teachers with High-Need Schools (PATHS) to Tutor Act.  This legislation would establish a grant program for partnerships among teacher preparation programs, local educational agencies, and community-based organizations to expand access to tutoring in hard-to-staff schools and high-need schools.  The full press release from Senator Booker can be found here

Biden Administration Fills out Higher Ed Team with James Kvaal, Michelle Asha Cooper    
The Biden Administration has continued to fill out the higher education team at the Department of Education (ED).  President Biden nominated James Kvaal, President of the Institute for College Access and Success think tank, to be Under Secretary of Education overseeing postsecondary education, adult and vocational education, and federal student aid.  Kvaal had previously served as a White House deputy domestic policy adviser and Deputy Under Secretary for Education during the Obama Administration, and is expected to advance policies aimed at increasing the Pell Grant, strengthening student loan repayment options, and improving higher education affordability generally.  He will now await Senate confirmation.  

President Biden also appointed Michelle Asha Cooper, currently President of the think tank Institute for Higher Education Policy, as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education.  Dr. Cooper will additionally serve as Acting Assistant Secretary and oversee the ED Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE) until a permanent Assistant Secretary is nominated and confirmed.  Other notable appointees include Christopher Rush as the Director of Educational Technology within the Office of the Secretary, Jordan Matsudaira as the Deputy Under Secretary for Education, and Melanie Muenzer as Chief of Staff within the Office of the Under Secretary.

President Biden Unveils Comprehensive Immigration Reform Plan  
On the first day of his administration, President Biden released his plan for comprehensive immigration reform, titled The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021.  The proposed legislation is wide-ranging and includes the following provisions related to higher education: 

  • Exempts international Ph.D. students in the STEM fields from annual green card and per country caps, which would make it easier for these students to get green cards;  
  • Extends dual intent to international students with student visas, which would allow international students the possibility to immigrate to the United States permanently;  
  • Enables international students with student visas to apply for green cards without sacrificing their student visa status; and 
  • Provides DACA recipients a path to citizenship. 

Although Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress, it is unlikely that President Biden’s immigration package is going to become law as introduced. Because of this, the House of Representatives is considering also passing small, piecemeal pieces of bipartisan immigration legislation, which we could see consideration of as early as mid-March.  

In addition to introducing his comprehensive immigration reform plan, President Biden issued a freeze on all pending regulations posted at the end of the Trump Administration. This includes the Trump Administration’s proposed changes to duration of stay regulations, which would limit international students to a two-to-four-year student visa, instead of the current policy that allows international students to stay in the United States for the duration of their degree program.  The Biden Administration is conducting a review of the proposed change to duration of stay and is not expected to support it.  

Biden Reverses Trump Apprenticeship Efforts 
The Department of Labor (DOL) recently announced that it would suspend aspects of the Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Program (IRAP).  IRAP was established under the Trump Administration as a way to expand apprenticeships to new sectors and industries.  The program was fiercely opposed by Democrats who felt that the program undermined the traditional Registered Apprenticeship system.  In a press release announcing the move to end the IRAP program, DOL also announced its intention to relaunch the federal Advisory Committee on Apprenticeship.  Apprenticeships continue to enjoy broad bipartisan support at the federal level.  At a hearing on his nomination to be DOL Secretary, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh received several questions from Senators on the importance of DOL continuing its support for apprenticeships.  The House also passed H.R. 447, the National Apprenticeship Act of 2021, which would authorize almost $4 billion in spending over five years to expand registered apprenticeships through grants and to modify the approval process for apprenticeship programs.  Efforts to support workforce development, including apprenticeships, are likely to be included in future congressional efforts. 

VA Moves to Implement New Law Impacting Veteran Education Benefits
Passed by Congress at the end of last year and signed into law in the beginning of 2021, the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act makes numerous changes to veteran health benefits under the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), as well as many changes to veterans’ higher education benefits under the GI Bill.  The VA has begun to implement provisions of the new law that may impact higher education institutions and beneficiaries.  The law will expand eligibility for the Fry Scholarship, the Edith Nourse Rogers STEM scholarship, and dependents seeking a transfer of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.  The law will require new enrollment certification procedures, add new course and institutional approval requirements, and codify in statute the requirements of the Principles of Excellence Program.  It will also remove post-service time restrictions on receiving in-state tuition at public institutions and, of note, has changed the responsible party for return of overpayments of tuition and fees and/or Yellow Ribbon benefits from the student to the institution.  Further details on the implementation of the new law can be found on the related VA website here.

Open Funding Opportunities 

ELA Announces National Professional Development Program  
The Department of Education (ED) Office of English Language Acquisition (ELA) released a notice inviting applications (NIA) for the National Professional Development Program (NPD).  NPD focuses on providing grants to those teaching English learners (EL) to “meet high professional standards” and to provide professional development activities to improve classroom instruction.   

All “institutions of higher education (IHEs) or public or private entities with relevant experience and capacity, in consortia with State educational agencies (SEAs) or local educational agencies (LEAs)” are eligible to apply.  Applications are open now with a deadline of a Notice of Intent to Apply by March 15, 2021.  Applications should be submitted no later than April 23, 2021.  ELA estimates to award 42 grants with a funding average of $464,000 per year for a period of performance of 60 months.  More information can be found here.

ED Announces FY 2021 Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Program  
The Department of Education (ED) released a notice inviting application (NIA) for the Fulbright-Hays--Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad program.  The program works to improve the study of modern languages in the United States through providing doctoral candidates the opportunity to develop their dissertation to reflect a specified area of modern language.  The choices are geographic language that the dissertation must focus on are: 
  • Africa 
  • East Asia 
  • Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands 
  • South Asia 
  • The Near East 
  • Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia 
  • The Western Hemisphere (excluding the United States and its territories) 
Applications for this annual competition are open now with an application deadline of April 5, 2021.  All interested students must submit their individual research narratives and forms to their home Institution of Higher Education (IHE) to be eligible. An estimated amount of 90 awards will be given with an average funding level of $39,000.  More information can be found here.

FACTS AND FIGURES: Shift in Opinions from August to December of Challenges Students Face as Learning Shifts Online 


Race and Financial Security Play Central Roles in Student Loan Repayment  

Pew Charitable Trusts - "Black borrowers, when compared with White peers, often attend schools that historically have been underfunded.  Research also indicates that Black borrowers have fewer resources with which to finance a college degree, they borrow more while in college, and they earn less afterward.  They also are more likely to experience growth in what they owe after leaving school and are more likely to default on their loans, even when they have college degrees.  In fact, college graduates who are Black are more likely to default on their loans than White college dropouts are.”  Read more here.
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