Obama speaks on college access. President Obama announced a new initiative aimed at increasing low-income students’ access to higher education that relies on commitments from states, universities, nonprofit organizations and businesses. The Obama administration unveiled more than 100 commitments from colleges and universities and millions of dollars in philanthropic donations aimed at helping more low-income students attend and complete college. While the effort doesn’t require new legislation, the administration will pressure Congress to fund its proposed Race to the Top higher education challenge, which would provide competitive grants to states and colleges that improve college affordability and quality. Appropriators did not fund the program in the omnibus and eliminated funding for all Race to the Top grants except for a newly expanded preschool program.
Spending bill brings education budget changes. The spending bill passed by Congress largely restores federal aid for most schools while including more than $1 billion for the Obama administration’s proposal for existing early-childhood programs. While some of the sequestration cuts were restored to Education, the department still would receive $793 million less under the omnibus than it received in its original FY 2013 budget. Lawmakers did not fully fund President Obama’s universal preschool proposal. The bill alters the FAFSA, gives schools $25 million for kitchen equipment, $75 million for a new school safety initiative and allows charters to use federal funds for pre-K. The omnibus authorizes a level $22.8 billion for the Pell Grant program, which Senate Democratic appropriators estimate will be used by about 9.3 million people in the 2014-15 academic year.
Duncan speaks on higher education at White House summit. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called on higher education leaders to seriously support the Common Core. If students are held to a higher standard, he said, they won’t need as much remedial coursework in college. Duncan also urged states to spend more on higher education. He talked tuition prices with MSNBC and said, “I’m a big believer in carrots rather than sticks,” including ways to encourage states to reinvest.
Senate hearing on access to higher education. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions tackles college readiness for low-income students with a hearing on TRIO and GEAR UP.
Bill introduced to change accreditation. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) introduced the Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act (S. 1904) that would let states develop their own accreditation systems and allow for learning in nontraditional venues. States could accredit any institution (including colleges and universities, nonprofit organizations, for-profit businesses and apprenticeship programs) that provides postsecondary courses or programs that can be applied to a degree, credential or professional certification. The bill would change the way that colleges and universities are accredited to receive federal funds through student financial aid as Congress undertakes reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA).
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 Jan. 21, 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: www.newenglandcouncil.com.