Bipartisan Senate Bill Introduced to Expand Dual Enrollment. U.S. Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Todd Young (R-IN) introduced the Fast Track To and Through College Act that would create a grant program to help more students earn college credits while still in high school. Under the bill, states would be able to compete for grants to implement comprehensive early-college programs. Students would be able to take as much as a full year of early college courses and Pell-eligible students and families would be able to use Pell Grants to cover dual-enrollments costs. “New Hampshire high schools are leading the country in enabling high schoolers to earn college credits—which challenges them academically, better prepares them for college, and can even save them on future tuition costs,” said Hassan in a statement.
U.S. Ed Dept Finalizes Rules on Accreditation and State Authorization. The U.S. Department of Education released its final version of federal regulations for accreditation and the state authorization of online education providers. The 519-page rule is similar to the recommendations made by 15 representatives of colleges, students and accreditors during a department-held rulemaking session earlier this year. The large changes include eliminating geographical boundaries for accreditors, simplifying the program approval process for colleges, easing accreditor compliance standards, widening the path for some new accreditors to become recognized, offering accreditors more leeway over sanctions and requiring struggling colleges to submit teach-out plans sooner. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has touted the rules as a way of giving colleges the freedom to experiment and grow. “We rejected the idea that one-size-fits-all solutions make sense in a world where education needs to continue to evolve,” said DeVos in a statement. Critics believe the department’s new rules, and particularly the language they chose to use, will significantly reduce oversight on colleges and hurt students and taxpayers. The regulation, set to go into effect July 1, 2020, is estimated to cost nearly $3.8 billion over the next decade. Read more in Education Dive.
College Affordability Act Passes Out of House Committee. The House Education and Labor Committee voted on party lines, 28 to 22, to approve, as amended, the College Affordability Act (CAA). The CAA, introduced by Chair Bobby Scott (D-VA) two weeks ago, is the first attempt at a comprehensive Higher Education Act reauthorization since 2008. The version of the bill that left committee includes several of the nearly 50 proposed amendments, such as a $625 increase to Pell Grants, subsidized loans for graduate education, and required Government Accountability Office investigations into racial and socioeconomic gaps in public higher education. Democrats have praised the bill as a long overdue solution to the $1.5 trillion student debt crisis and a needed crackdown on higher education institutions with predatory practices. During the three-day markup, Republicans expressed near-uniform opposition to the bill, proposing dozens of amendments, most of which were rejected. Critics of the measure claim that it pours money into programs that have not proved to be helpful to students and stifles institutions with excessive federal regulations. Debate over the issue of for-profit colleges continued to surface during the markup, as Republicans believe the bill disproportionally targets them. Read more in Forbes.
Private Colleges Push Back on New Endowment Tax. In July, the U.S. Treasury Department published its proposed rules for how the sweeping tax reform package passed by Congress in 2017 would affect colleges and universities. Harvard University, which has the largest endowment in the U.S. at $40.9 billion, announced Oct. 24, that it expects to pay nearly $50 million in the new taxes. The IRS expects the new 1.4% tax on university investment to affect fewer than 40 institutions, including several of the country’s most well-known and well-funded universities. The tax applies only to schools that enroll more than 500 students and have endowments worth at least $500,000 per student. Several private higher education institutions are pushing back on the new law and are lobbying for exemption, claiming the increased fees will take from critical funding for financial aid and academics. However, higher education experts believe the tax is here to stay, as it is helping fund tax cuts in other places that the federal government has already promised. Read more in the Boston Globe and Education Dive.
Senate Rejects Spending Package Including Education. The Senate voted 51 to 41 to reject a procedural vote to begin debate on a four-bill minibus, H.R. 2740, that includes fiscal year 2020 spending for education. The package includes two of the biggest appropriations bills, Defense and Labor-HHS-Education. The Senate needed 60 votes to move forward, but Democrats objected to the Republican’s funding levels and disagreed with how and when the Trump administration should be able to divert Pentagon funding for the border wall. Lawmakers have until Nov. 21 before government funding runs out, and the Labor-HHS-Education bill and money for the border wall have proved to be the main cause of gridlock. Read more in Politico.
Democrats Call For DeVos to Testify on Student Loan Forgiveness. House Education and Labor Chair Scott (D-VA) sent a letter to DeVos requesting that she testify before Congress about the department’s erroneous collection of thousands of loans from students of the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges. This request comes days after a federal judge found DeVos in contempt for violating the court’s order to stop the collection of former Corinthian College students’ loans. Scott writes that DeVos “must explain to Congress and the public” how the illegal seizure of the borrowers’ money occurred and why the administration has not approved, nor denied, any of the over 210,000 “borrower defense” applications in the department’s backlog. Read more in Politico.
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. 4, 2019. For more information, please visit: www.newenglandcouncil.com.
Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash.