DC Shuttle: House and Senate Hearings Focus on Student Aid

House and Senate hearings on federal student aid. Both chambers of Congress discussed ways to restructure the federal government’s student aid programs. The House Education and the Workforce Committee held a hearing on federal student aid and on Thursday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing on the same issue. Lawmakers discussed simplifying the administrative barriers for students applying for aid, restructuring Pell Grants to better incentivize completion and improving income-based repayment options for student borrowers. Senate HELP Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Republican ranking member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said they believed there was a general consensus on simplifying the process by which students apply for federal aid. The hearings were part of a series on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA). Harkin announced in September that his committee will hold 12 fact-finding hearings over several months and then produce a draft HEA reauthorization by early 2014. The Obama administration proposed in its education agenda the development, by 2015, of a rating system for colleges based on student outcomes and value. Congress may consider linking a rating system to federal student aid dollars as part of reauthorization.

Michelle Obama speaks on higher education. First Lady Michelle Obama spoke to a Washington D.C. high school about the importance of higher education. She was joined by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in what the New York Times reported is an upcoming focus for the First Lady on higher education issues. White House officials are interested in encouraging the efforts of public and private universities to better recruit and graduate low-income, first-generation students.

CBO report on Pell Grants. The Congressional Budget Office released an analysis of the federal Pell Grant program. The report details the increase in Pell Grant spending, average Pell Grants awarded and overall enrollment. It also analyzes options moving forward and gives price estimates for the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act, passed in January, and related bills.

Sequestration and education. The Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities  and The Science Coalition released the results of a survey of research universities detailing the effects of sequestration. Eighty-one percent of responding institutions said that sequestration was directly affecting their research activities.

House hearings on STEM Education. The House Science, Space and Technology Committee’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology held a hearing on federal investment in research, science and technology at the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Office of Science and Technology Policy and interagency science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs. The hearing was held to discuss the draft Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act. The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade held a hearing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and training in the manufacturing workforce.

Hearing on ACA in schools. The House Education and the Workforce Committee held a hearing on the impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) on educational institutions. Chair John Kline (R-MN) said that school systems would be forced to cut programs to account for the law’s costs, and would possibly scale back employees’ hours to avoid providing them insurance coverage. Democrats at the hearing said the ACA would end up helping hourly and adjunct employees who have been asked to work substantial hours with no health insurance coverage. The law requires that employers of 50 or more people offer health insurance to their employees who work 30 or more hours per week. It also defines what benefits must be included in those plans.

Medical education conference. MedPage Today reported that changes coming to medical education were the focus of experts at a conference in Washington, DC.

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 Nov. 18, 2013.

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: www.newenglandcouncil.com.


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