DC Shuttle: STEM’ing Immigration; Measuring Higher Ed Productivity; Funding Upward Bound

Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced legislation Wednesday to create a new category of student visas for those studying in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. The bill would create a new category of non-immigrant visa for foreign students pursuing a master’s degree or doctorate in the STEM fields in the U.S. Those students would have one year after graduation in which to find a job and apply for permanent resident status, and would not be subject to per-country green card limits and certain other restrictions. Currently, all foreign students must secure a work permit before applying for a green card if they wish to remain and work in the U.S. after graduation. Then, in order to keep that visa, they must remain with their original employer and at the same job title. The number of green cards available under the Coons-Alexander proposal is not capped, leaving open the possibility that it could create thousands of new green cards. In contrast, a bill (S. 3185) introduced Tuesday by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) would eliminate 55,000 green cards given by lottery every year and award them to STEM graduates instead.

An expert panel convened by the U.S. National Research Council (NRC) released a report Thursday on the difficulties presented in trying to develop a standardized productivity measurement for colleges. The 15-member panel—composed of university administrators, economists and higher education experts—was convened by the NRC and funded by the Lumina Foundation. The report summary cited “accounting for input differences, wide quality variation of outputs, and opaque or regulated pricing” among the difficulties particular to the effort to measure and compare productivity among colleges. The panel did propose a way forward, but with the caveat that anything based on existing data would be a rough estimate at best. Instead, it suggested that colleges improve data collection in such areas as instruction hours, fields of study and job placement rates. By including instruction hours alongside graduation rates, the NRC panel hopes to offset concerns from institutions with large number of part-time students, as well as an incentive to lower graduation standards simply to increase graduation rate statistics. Even this model, however, is intended to be used to look at the higher education sector as a whole or at very large groups of colleges, rather than to compare individual institutions against each other.

On May 11, the U.S. Education Department announced $254 million in funding for 780 Upward Bound awards to help nearly 62,000 underserved students across the country to be successful in high school and college. The grants fund programs to provide tutoring, counseling, mentoring, work-study opportunities and other activities to help students prepare for and succeed in postsecondary education. The New England states received over $9.6 million from the program:

State                          Award Amount

Connecticut                $1,126,550

Massachusetts           $4,015,166

Maine                          $1,953,560

New Hampshire          $899,640

Rhode Island                $622,001

Vermont                     $1,043,766

As a member of New England Council, we publish the DC Shuttle each week featuring higher ed news from Washington. This edition is drawn from the Council’s Weekly Washington Report Higher Education Update, of May 21, 2012.

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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