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February 2019 | Lewis-Burke Associates LLC
A VIEW FROM WASHINGTON

While the government shutdown did not directly impact the U.S. Department of Education (ED), the 35-day shutdown, which ended on January 25, did impact institutions of higher education.  These impacts included lapses in funding for research projects, facilities, postdocs, and graduate students and delayed funding decisions for proposals that had already been submitted.  Congress has until February 15 to come up with a funding agreement that would fund the 25 percent of the government that has been operating on temporary funding.  This delay has already affected the release of the President’s fiscal year (FY) 2020 Budget Request and is likely to impact when Congress will begin its work on education, science, and research funding bills for the upcoming fiscal year. 
 
Over 100,000 comments were submitted in response to ED’s proposed revisions of Title IX regulations.  Comments from the leading higher education associations noted, “Most importantly, we ask that the final rule reflect this fundamental premise: Colleges and universities are educational institutions, not arms of or alternatives to the criminal justice system.”  Talks of a Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization are heating up.  Leaders of the relevant education committees have been publicly commenting on the potential of a reauthorization in 2019, in particular Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) expressing a desire to introduce a bill this spring.  In responding to HEA timelines, U.S. House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) observed, "We have a long road ahead."  More details on Senator Alexander's proposals are available below.  Disagreements over student aid, campus safety, and for-profit institutions, among other issues, pose potential obstacles to finding a compromise between a Republican controlled Senate and Democrat controlled House.
 

 
IN THIS ISSUE

CONGRESSIONAL UPDATES AND NEWS
Congressional Education Committees Announce New Members
New House Leaders Highlight Education Priorities and Oversight
Senate Education Committee Chair Outlines HEA Priorities

ADMINISTRATION AND AGENCY UPDATES AND NEWS
Staff Changes at ED
Regulatory Rewrite Gets Underway
ED Releases Fulbright-Hays, SBIR, and EIR Program Applications and Deadlines
ED Releases Two White Papers on Rethinking Higher Education and Accreditation

FACTS AND FIGURES
Changes in State Fiscal Support for Higher Education

WHAT WE'RE READING
Loan Debt Can Prevent Young Adults from Owning Homes
 
CONGRESSIONAL UPDATES AND NEWS

Congressional Education Committees Announce New Members
The U.S. House of Representatives and U.S Senate committees overseeing education policy announced their rosters for the 116th Congress, including the new members on each panel.  The House Education and Labor Committee experienced substantial turnover with the control of the chamber shifting to the Democrats, and will feature 24 new members.  New additions to the committee include Representatives Josh Harder (D-CA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Lucy McBath (D-GA), Joe Morelle (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Kim Schrier (D-WA), Donna Shalala (D-FL), Lauren Underwood (D-IL), Ben Cline (R-VA), Van Taylor (R-TX), and Ron Wright (R-TX), among others.  A full list of additions are available for both Democrats and Republicans.  Membership of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee stayed more consistent, with Republicans maintaining control of the chamber.  The HELP Committee welcomed three new members: Senators Mitt Romney, (R-UT), Mike Braun (R-IN), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV).

Sources and Additional Information:
New House Leaders Highlight Education Priorities and Oversight
In a January 29 organizational meeting for the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee, new Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) noted among the policy committee’s duties is “to improve the quality and lower the cost of our education system – from early childhood education to college and career.”  He also remarked on his intent to have the Committee “lead aggressive oversight” of the agencies under its jurisdiction, which includes the U.S. Department of Education (ED).  The Committee’s initial activities and related hearings will focus on protecting workers with pre-existing conditions, raising the federal minimum wage, public school infrastructure, and gender wage discrimination.  Chairman Scott also expressed interest in oversight of ED's rulemaking efforts as it relates to for-profit institutions and student aid, implementation of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, and protecting civil rights laws related to education and the workforce.
 
On the spending front, new House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) noted her interest in “supporting our nation's public schools and providing the research dollars to NIH, to funding workforce development and worker protection programs…Our committee is also poised to conduct rigorous oversight following two years of Trump administration’s rollbacks that have hollowed out of these crucial agencies.”

Sources and Additional Information:
Senate Education Committee Chair Outlines HEA Priorities
In a February 4 presentation to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) outlined his Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization priorities and plans for the coming year.  He highlighted three proposals that he would like in a comprehensive HEA bill, including:
  • Simplifying the FAFSA – reducing the current form down to around two dozen questions and allowing for earlier awareness of aid eligibility for students;
  • Simplifying the loan repayment program – reducing the current loan repayment plans down to two options, an income-based repayment option set at 10% of discretionary income with 20-year loan forgiveness and a standard 10-year repayment plan;
  • Developing a new accountability system for institutions of higher education – determining accountability by student loan repayment that would apply to all programs and degrees at all institutions of higher education.
Chairman Alexander also shared other Senate proposals and bipartisan bills for possible inclusion in a Senate HEA bill.  Ideas shared included: expanding competency based education programs, requiring uniform award letters, allowing more aid and loan counseling, sharing program level data on debt and earnings, increasing the Pell Grant program for prisoners, expanding the use of experimental sites, allowing Pell Grants for short term programs, and pursuing deregulation efforts outlined in the “Zeppos-Kirwan” Recalibrating Regulation of Colleges and Universities report.   Chairman Alexander said he hopes to have a single bill ready for a Spring 2019 markup in the Committee, ready for consideration by full Senate in the summer, and a final conference with House by the end of the year.

Sources and Additional Information:
ADMINISTRATION AND AGENCY UPDATES AND NEWS
 
Staff Changes at ED
The Department of Education (ED) continued its staffing ramp-up in the new year with the announcement of several new hires including Casey Sacks as Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education and Laurie VanderPloeg as the Director of the Office of Special Education Programs.  Exiting the Department this past month was ED’s General Counsel, Carlos G. Muñiz, who left the agency to join the Florida Supreme Court.  In January, President Trump re-nominated Robert L. King for Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education, which will need to be considered by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and receive approval by the full Senate before he can assume the agency’s lead postsecondary role.  

Sources and Additional Information:  
Regulatory Rewrite Gets Underway 
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) began its negotiated rulemaking last month to consider accreditation and innovation-related regulations.  The process involves a group of negotiators debating and amending regulations proposed by ED.  If the group can not reach consensus, then ED will determine the final regulations.  Negotiations opened with a call to add representatives from state higher education associations and state attorney generals.  A representative from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association was added to a subcommittee on online education, though consumer advocates voiced disappointment when a state attorneys general representative was not added.
 
The committees are tackling numerous issues including the recognition of accrediting agencies, “regular and substantive interaction,” state authorization, how much of a program can be provided by a non-accredited entity, TEACH grants, and other issues.  A motivating interest is ED’s desire to make it easier for accrediting agencies to enter the accreditation space.  ED has also expressed a desire to address the perceived disparity between regional and national accreditation, potentially as a way to address the fact that most for-profit institutions are accredited by national entities.  ED’s proposal would require that regional accreditors operate in no fewer than three but no more than nine contiguous states.  This would impact several regional accreditors who primarily oversee non-profit institutions and could result in these entities either dropping schools or needing to become national accreditors.  Other issues that have been raised and discussed during the initial meetings include competency-based education, the definition of credit hour, the definition of distance education, among other issues.  Meetings will resume in February and continue into March.  Secretary DeVos and other ED officials have been sending a consistent message that they view accreditation reform as a means of spurring innovation in higher education.  Very real concerns exist, however, that many of these changes may result in low-quality entities gaining access to limited federal resources and leaving students with little to show for their education.

Sources and Additional Information:
ED Releases Fulbright-Hays, SBIR, and EIR Program Applications and Deadlines
Fulbright-Hays Applications
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has released applications for the following Fulbright-Hays competition programs.  The application deadline for these two programs is March 25, 2019. The application for the Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad competition is expected to be released in February and will be held in the Czech Republic, Taiwan, and Uruguay.

Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program
The Department of Education and Institute of Education Sciences’ Small Business Innovation Research program (ED/IES SBIR) has released its fiscal year (FY) 2019 Phase I solicitation.  The Phase I Program is accepting proposals for the development of education technology prototypes to enhance outcomes for students, teachers, and administrators in education and special education.  ED/IES SBIR is accepting proposals for awards up to $200,000 for periods up to 8 months and will provide funding to small businesses and their partners for the research, development, and evaluation of “commercially viable” education technology products.  The deadline for the ED/IES SBIR solicitation is March 20, 2019 at 11:00am EST.  In addition to the Phase I solicitation, ED/IES SBIR anticipates releasing a special topic solicitation on postsecondary education in February 2019.  More information on the SBIR solicitations can be found here.
 
Education Innovation and Research (EIR) Program
The U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office of Education and Innovation Research (EIR) has released three fiscal year (FY) 2019 solicitations for the following competition phases: early-phase, mid-phase, and expansion.  The EIR program supports efforts by educational systems to create, implement, and evaluate innovative, evidence-based solutions to academic challenges facing high-need students.  The deadline for notice of intent (NOI) to apply for all three solicitations is February 21, 2019.  Additional information, including the differences in the three grant phases and information on being a peer reviewer, can be found on EIR’s website

ED Releases Two White Papers on Rethinking Higher Education and Accreditation
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) released two white papers last month, one on “rethinking higher education” and another on accreditation reform.  “Rethinking” education has been a motif of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the current Administration.  In speaking to a group of higher education figures, Secretary DeVos noted, “So by ‘rethink,’ I mean this: everyone question everything to ensure nothing limits students from being prepared for what comes next.”  These white papers provide insights into efforts ED will undertake in the next two years of this Administration.  Their influence is already being seen in the proposed regulatory revisions ED provided for the negotiated rulemaking sessions that began last month.  While ED is limited by what can be accomplished outside of a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), these policy proposals could have important impacts on institutions in several areas including accreditation, financial aid, and regulatory oversight and compliance.

The “rethinking higher education” whitepaper frames rising costs, debates over the purposes of higher education, and “lack of philosophical diversity” as threats.  It also addresses issues of access, completion, and the disparity in completion rates that non-traditional, low-income, and minority students have when compared to their peers.  The accreditation reform whitepaper acknowledges the important role accreditors play in the regulatory “triad” that governs higher education in the U.S.  It charges, however, that “accreditors and the institutions they oversee have too often been forced into a state of regulation induced conformity.”  ED believes this has led to stifled innovation and notes the Department’s intention to revisit accreditation regulations.  The whitepaper lists several proposals to develop “more effective and less costly regulatory requirements.” These include allowing for more flexibility in determining if an accreditor is in compliance with standards for recognition, clearly defining the roles of accreditors, states, and ED in oversight, supporting greater flexibility for innovative practices, respecting the religious missions of private institutions, and ensuring the protection of free speech.  

Sources and Additional Information:

FACTS AND FIGURES

Changes in State Fiscal Support for Higher Education
The following study from Illinois State University shows that states spent 3.7 percent more supporting higher education in fiscal year 2018-19 than in the previous year.


Sourcehttps://education.illinoisstate.edu/downloads/grapevine/tables/GPV_Table2_FY19.pdf.
WHAT WE'RE READING

Loan Debt Can Prevent Young Adults from Owning Homes
According to Federal Reserve research, “Our estimates suggest that student loan debt can be a meaningful barrier preventing young adults from owning a home. According to our calculations, the increase in student loan debt between 2005 and 2014 reduced the homeownership rate among young adults by 2 percentage points. The homeownership rate for this group fell 9 percentage points over this period, implying that a little over 20 percent of the overall decline in homeownership among the young can be attributed to the rise in student loan debt. This represents over 400,000 young individuals who would have owned a home in 2014 had it not been for the rise in debt.”  Further details can be read at https://www.federalreserve.gov/publications/files/consumer-community-context-201901.pdf?mod=article_inline.
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