DC Shuttle: Bill to Boost STEM and other Higher Ed News from Washington

On Monday, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) announced that she and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced legislation (S. 969) aimed at encouraging and improving science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. The bill would provide planning and implementation grants on a competitive basis to help states integrate engineering instruction into K-12 education. Sen. Snowe said in a press release that “this legislation would foster leadership in technological innovation by putting a greater emphasis on engineering studies for students in grades K-12 and ensuring teachers are well qualified.” She cited the need for workforce development and innovation in order to compete in the global economy. The senators introduced similar legislation during the 111th Congress, but it did not advance beyond the committee level.
On May 16, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for a Competitive Workforce released a report on ways to foster innovation in higher education, particularly among for-profit institutions. The report encourages colleges to “embrace private sector-led innovation to transform learning, dramatically lower costs, or improve overall institutional productivity.” In order to reach President Obama’s goal of having the most educated population in the world by 2020, the report argues, institutions of higher education should collaborate with organizations and businesses “outside the education establishment” to incorporate new ideas and technologies. It also warned that progress in the higher education arena could be “stifled through restrictive regulations on e-learning, discouraged through funding that fails to reward quality and outcomes, or simply thwarted by complacency within traditional intuitions.” Among the named restrictive regulations were the “gainful employment” rules on for-profit colleges proposed by the Education Department. The rules, which would withdraw federal funding from programs at for-profit colleges whose graduates were having difficulty repaying their student loan debt, have been heavily criticized by industry advocates and some members of Congress. Other pending rules concerning accreditation procedures and recruiting practices were also criticized in the report for potentially stifling progress in higher education. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce held a forum discussing innovation and regulation in the for-profit sector to coincide with the release of the report. Scrutiny of for-profit colleges has been increasing since last year. The state of Massachusetts recently sent a request for information on recruitment and financial practices to several major for-profit colleges, including the University of Phoenix, which is the largest in the country.

The YouthBuild workforce development program will receive almost $76 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Labor to help at-risk youth earn high school degrees and receive job training in the construction and clean-energy fields. The funds will be distributed to programs throughout the country, with the following amounts going to New England programs:
–    Maine: LearningWorks will receive $1.08 million
–    Massachusetts: Training Resources of America Inc. will receive $808,200
–    Rhode Island: The Providence Plan will receive $1.1 million
–    Vermont: ReSOURCE will receive $1.02 million

From the New England Council’s Weekly Washington Report Higher Education Update, May 23, 2011. NEBHE is a member of the Council and will publish this column each week.

Founded in 1925, the New England Council is a non-partisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth and a high quality of life in the New England region. The Council’s mission is to identify and support federal public policies and articulate the voice of its membership regionally and nationally on important issues facing New England. For more information, please visit www.newenglandcouncil.com.


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