Congress Proposes Modest Increases to Student Aid

DC Shuttle …

Spending bill proposes few changes for education. The appropriations bill introduced in Congress will provide slight tweaks and modest increases to student aid and other programs. The restoration of the “ability to benefit” program is among the more significant higher education changes within the spending package. The program would allow students without a high school diploma or GED to obtain federal student aid if they are enrolled in a career pathway program at a community college. Changes to Pell Grant funding have also garnered some level of attention. Some education advocates expressed concern about a proposal that would cut $303 million in its discretionary funding, which has a surplus this year. The deal would tap into this surplus to help pay for the collection of federal student loans and allocate an additional $230.9 million to the Education Department’s loan servicing budget to pay nonprofit loan servicers, whose funding was eliminated by Congress last year. Funding for disabled students and veterans will be slightly boosted under the package: $2.5 million will go to a national center for students with disabilities, while a $5 million grant program will provide services for student veterans on college campuses. The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights will get a $1.6 million increase, which lawmakers say is “to help ensure that educational institutions are protecting students from sexual violence.” The bill does not include any funding for the Education Department’s request to help it produce a college ratings system.

Lawmakers urge loan discharge for Corinthian students. A group of senators led by Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) wrote a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Tuesday, urging the immediate forgiveness of federal student loans for some current and former students of the dismantled Corinthian College system. The Democratic group wrote that the department has authority to discharge federal loans when an institution has violated students’ rights and state law, as Corinthian allegedly has, but that the agency has yet to take action. In addition to Sen. Warren, New England Senators Blumenthal (D-CT), Markey (D-MA), Reed (D-RI) and Whitehouse (D-RI) are among the 13 that signed the letter.

Senators Harkin, Murphy introduce Students Before Profits Act. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Senate HELP Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA) announced the introduction of the Students Before Profits Act. The bill aims to mend the many issues revealed in a 2012 investigation by the Senate HELP committee of for-profit colleges. Among provisions included is one to develop a risk-sharing commission that will recommend ways to keep schools more financially responsible. The bill will also authorize enhanced penalties on schools that misrepresent their costs, completion rates and other facts, and establish new rules for schools with high loan default rates.

White House announces $1 billion for preschool program. The White House hosted an Early Learning Summit where the administration announced more than $1 billion in spending on early learning programs. Over $330 million comes from corporate and philanthropic contributions, while the remaining $750 million comes from federal spending and grants. The funds are aimed at expanding the reach of high-quality preschool to all low- and moderate-income children, bolstering investments in Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, and extending voluntary home-visiting programs that connect low-income families to educational services and support.

FCC Passes $1.5 billion E-Rate funding boost. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3-2 to approve an increase of $1.5 billion in funding for its E-Rate program which helps public schools gain access to technologies and high-speed Internet. An increase of $1.90 per year, per phone line, in telephone service fees will pay for the program, which had its funding capped in 1997. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) and FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel released an op-ed calling for this increase in funding.

Accreditation panel weighs in on HEA reauthorization. The federal panel in charge of advising the Department of Education on accreditation issues submitted a draft set of recommendations for changing accreditation practices during the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Among the many recommendations, the panel suggested eliminating regional agencies and converting all into national accreditors, allowing for alternative accrediting organizations, and giving accrediting agencies broader authority to create different tiers of approval. The panel will continue to work on the recommendations, and plans on producing a another version in June.

National report says college enrollment down. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released data showing college enrollment has decreased by 1.3% this past year. Most of the decline is among adult students, many of whom have moved into the workforce as the economy has improved.

We publish the DC Shuttle each week featuring higher ed news from Washington collected by the New England Council, of which NEBHE is a member. This edition is drawn from the Higher Education Update in the Council’s Weekly Washington Report of Dec. 15, 2014. Founded in 1925, the New England Council is a nonpartisan 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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