The DC Shuttle: Higher Education News from Washington

On Thursday, the House and Senate both passed a fiscal year 2011 budget compromise (H.R. 1473) which would make almost $40 billion in cuts to federal spending. The bill is much more restrained in its cuts to education programs than was the House Republicans’ spending legislation (H.R. 1) which passed the House in February. The Head Start program would receive a small increase over current funding levels and the competitive grants provided through Race to the Top would receive an additional $700 million. The Pell Grant program would maintain its current maximum award level of $5,550 for the 2011-12 school year and receive $23 billion in discretionary funds. In order to continue providing the same level of grant awards to a pool of students which is expected to increase as it has been for several years, students taking classes year-round would no longer be able to apply for a second grant in one year. College and student advocates claim that this cut, which would save an estimated $8 billion through 2012, disproportionately harms older students and those paying their own way through college. The bill would make significant cuts to some education programs and eliminate 27 others entirely. Teach for America and the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership (LEAP) program to support state-based aid for low-income students would both be eliminated, while the TRIO programs which help guide disadvantaged students through education from junior high to post-graduate levels would be cut by $25 million. Job training grants to states which would have been eliminated entirely under H.R. 1 would be cut by $182 million, and the bill would create a $125 million Workforce Innovation Fund for state and regional partnerships to improve current job training programs.
Republican members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee wrote a letter to Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) heavily criticizing his efforts to impose a set of regulations on for-profit colleges and universities. They requested that Sen. Harkin abandon his series of “disorganized and prejudicial” hearings and work with them toward reforms which would address all institutions of higher education. If not, the senators “will not participate in the next hearing on for-profit institutions,” which Sen. Harkin has scheduled for May 10. While Republican committee members concede that increases in student debt and “questionable student outcomes at many institutions of higher education” merit attention, they believe that Sen. Harkin and other supporters of the Education Department’s “gainful employment” regulations are using too blunt an instrument to address the problem. The HELP Committee chair has accused for-profit colleges of deceptive recruiting practices and burdening students with debt which they are unable to repay after graduation. A spokesperson for Sen. Harkin said that the chairman hopes to work with committee members from both parties to introduce legislation addressing concerns about the for-profit higher education sector.

On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education held a hearing on a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on “Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Federal Teacher Quality Programs.” GAO Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues Director George Scott reported that the GAO had “identified 82 programs supporting teacher quality which are characterized by fragmentation and overlap.” Subcommittee Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) pointed out that the GAO report did not identify any programs that could definitively be characterized as “duplicative” and instead conservatively indicated areas where there was “potential duplication.” When Scott acknowledged that no evaluation had been done of the potential impacts of cutting or consolidating these programs, Congresswoman DeLauro requested that additional funding be appropriated to these programs in order to conduct thorough internal evaluations of their effectiveness so that federal funding can be directed more judiciously. Committee member Congressman Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) contended that while many of the programs have not been fully evaluated, some programs where there exists known fraud and waste, including Head Start, should be scaled back immediately.

From the New England Council’s Weekly Washington Report Higher Education Update, April 18, 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


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