FAFSA Simplification Advances; Plus DeVos Under Fire

By The New England Council

DC Shuttle …

Alexander Introduces Bipartisan Standalone FAFSA Bill. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) outlined a new higher education strategy on the Senate floor, introducing a bipartisan bill with Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). FAFSA simplification has been a top priority for the chair, however it is unclear how this standalone measure will fit into negotiations with Democrats for a comprehensive overhaul of the Higher Education Act (HEA). Alexander said the legislation “can and should pass the Senate and House this year,” but the ranking Democrat on the committee, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), has continued to push for nothing less than a comprehensive reauthorization of the HEA. NEBHE recently published a policy brief on increasing FAFSA completion rates among New England’s low-income students, given the link between filling out the FAFSA and college readiness and enrollment.

Alexander Blocks HBCU Funding for a Third Time. Alexander blocked a two-year extension of funding for historically black colleges and other minority-serving institutions for the third time, criticizing the bill as a “short term budget gimmick that could never pass the Senate.” The chairman said the Senate should instead pass his eight-bill bipartisan package that includes a permanent extension of the funding and the FAFSA simplification bill.

Ed Dept Selects Colleges for Debit Card Pilot. The Education Department confirmed the selected universities and financial services companies that will participate in a pilot program to test a new way for students to receive federal student aid for things other than tuition, such as books and living expenses. Purdue University, the University of Georgia, Jackson State University and the University of California, Riverside are among the chosen schools. The cepartment selected First Data, Urban FT and Metabank as the payment card providers. The department pitched the pilot program as a way to provide students federal aid without them having to pay any debit card fees or other charges. Concerns about the pilot program have been raised on both sides of the aisle, including the privacy of student data and whether it would be used to restrict how and where students use their financial aid money. Mark Brown, the chief operating officer of Federal Student Aid at the Education Department, responded to such concerns in a letter to Congress earlier this year, stating that the program would provide only “non-identifying aggregated” data about students’ spending habits to the department and that aside from preventing fraud there would be “no limits on how or where customers spend funds.” Read more in Politico and Education Dive.

House Democrats Threaten to Subpoena Secretary DeVos. House Education and Labor Committee Chair Bobby Scott (D-VA) sent a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos threating to subpoena documents regarding her department’s role in the sudden closing of the Dream Center’s Education Holdings, a now defunct for-profit college chain. This letter is Scott’s second request for the department’s documents and transcribed interviews in regard to the Dream Center. Along with the letter, the committee released documents that suggest DeVos knowingly made improper and potentially illegal payments to two Dream Center-owned schools in an effort to keep them afloat after losing their accreditation. Read more in U.S. News and World Report and Inside Higher Ed.

Judge Holds DeVos in Contempt for Corinthian College Loan Collection. A federal judge held DeVos in contempt of court and issued a $100,000 fine for violating the order to stop collecting loans owed by students of the now defunct for-profit Corinthian Colleges. U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim wrote that “the evidence shows only minimal efforts to comply with the preliminary injunction.” Earlier this year, the Trump administration revealed to the court that it erroneously collected the loans of over 16,000 borrowers who attended Corinthian Colleges, despite the court order to halt. The $100,000 fine will be paid by the government and go to a fund held by the former Corinthian students’ attorneys to help cover the expenses caused by the improper collection of their loans. The Education Department tweeted, “We’re disappointed in the court’s ruling … We acknowledged that servicers made unacceptable mistakes.” Read more in Politico.

DeVos-Appointed Education Official Resigns, Calls for Mass Student Loan Forgiveness. Arthur Wayne Johnson, a 2017 DeVos appointee, resigned from his post as the Education Department’s senior student loan official, calling the student loan system “fundamentally broken” and urging for sweeping student-loan forgiveness. In his position, Johnson was in charge of revamping the way in which the agency handles borrowers and loan servicers. In his resignation, Johnson stated that repayment trends suggest much of the debt will never be repaid and called for a system that removes the government from student lending. Johnson also announced his plans to run for the open Senate seat in Georgia and will center his campaign on forgiving hundreds of billions of dollars of student debt. Read more in The Washington Post.

NPR Spotlight on “Child Care Access Means Parents in School” Program. NPR published an article about the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program. Under the House Democrats’ recent proposal to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, the CCAMPIS program would be significantly expanded. The suggested expansion would quadruple CCAMPIS funding to $200 million. “This isn’t just about quality care for kids,” said Rep. Katharine Clark (D-MA), who is leading the effort to expand CCAMPIS. “This is the workforce. If you want to recruit and retain talent, if you want people to get an education to fill those jobs that you need in your business, then we need to invest in childcare.” A recent government report revealed that 1 in 5 college students in the U.S. are raising children, totaling over 4 million people. In 2018, Congress more than tripled CCAMPIS funding, yet the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that the program only served about 11,000 student parents, when there are over 1.8 million who could qualify for the program.

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 Oct. 28, 2019. For more information, please visit: www.newenglandcouncil.com.


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