“First in the World” Grants to Spur Innovation in College Access, Completion

DC Shuttle …

Ed Dept. announces grants to increase college completion. The U.S. Department of Education announced the First in the World campaign, with $75 million worth of grants to fund the development and testing of innovative approaches and strategies at colleges and universities that improve college attainment and make higher education more affordable. The Education Department will award grants of up to several million dollars to institutions (or consortia of them) to implement or scale up ideas that might spur innovation, improve college access and completion, and cut student costs. Up to $20 million of the total will be set aside for colleges that meet the federal definition of “minority-serving institution.”

HELP committee approves preschool bill. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee marked up, and voted to approve on a 12 to 10 party-line vote, the Strong Start for America’s Children Act. The bill calls for two federal funding streams for preschool, formula grants for states to expand existing daylong, high-quality preschool programs, and competitive grants for states that don’t have programs to create them. It would also set standards for teacher training and pay, class size and the availability of health care and other services. Ranking Republican Lamar Alexander (R-TN) offered an alternative that would consolidate a number of federal preschool and daycare programs, including Head Start, child care voucher programs and up to 3% of funds given to states to support low-income schools, and give the funds to states in block grants. States would have to submit plans to the U.S. Education Department and could use the funds for child care, preschool, full-day kindergarten, expanded Head Start programs or preschool for children with disabilities. The amendment was rejected.

HELP hearing on minority-serving institutions. The Senate HELP Committee held a hearing on minority-serving institutions. The committee will also hold a hearing on access to higher education for service members and veterans.

Dems on HELP committee calls for strict rules on Gainful Employment. Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Tom Carper (D-DE) today sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education and Secretary Arne Duncan, asking stricter rules regarding gainful employment, specifically at for-profit colleges. In a HELP Committee press release, the Senators say too many students leave without a diploma. In the letter, they ask Duncan to enact new protections for borrowers, including “relief” if they are struggling with employment. They also ask Duncan to consider imposing enrollment caps at poorly performing schools, requiring poorly performing schools to assume their students’ loan debt and including loan repayment rates among the metrics that must be disclosed.

Student loan bill battle. Democrats and Republicans are lining up for a fight over Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s student loan-refinancing bill, the Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act (S. 2292). Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), said he plans to take the measure up in June, and acknowledged he expected a divide along party lines. He said Democrats see the plan as one of the pillars of their election year “fair shot” economic agenda. The cost of the bill would be offset by raising taxes on wealthy Americans. Republicans argue the measure would increase risks of potential federal loan defaults and spur increases in debt and college costs.

Hearing on college athletes postponed. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee postponed a hearing on college athletes that was scheduled for Wednesday.

College preparedness data. The National Assessment Governing Board found that fewer than 40% of graduating high school seniors are prepared for college coursework, based on data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for 2013.

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 May 19, 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.


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