Now to the Affordability Question

DC Shuttle …

College Affordability Plan Introduced in U.S. Senate. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) introduced her College Affordability Plan, which comprises of four bills affecting Pell Grants. The first would restore the year-round Pell Grant, allowing students to use Pell funding for three academic semesters per year instead of the current two. Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Jack Reed (D-RI) are co-sponsors of this act. A second bill would increase the maximum Pell Grant from $5,730 to $9,139, while the third would make Pell Grants mandatory spending. Markey also cosponsored these bills. The final bill of Hirono’s plan is the College Option for DREAMers Act, which would allow DREAMer students who came to the U.S. as children and attended U.S. high schools to access the same federal financial aid as qualified American students. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who wrote the original DREAM Act, is a cosponsor. Hirono’s plan has been endorsed by many education advocates and national organizations. Congressman Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) introduced the plan in the House last week as well.

Student Loan Social Security Garnishing. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting a study on the number of senior Americans who are having their Social Security payments garnished to pay back student loan debt. According to a recent GAO report, the percentage of households headed by people aged 65 to 74 which hold student loan debt quadrupled between 2004 and 2010.

Financial Education in Spotlight. As lawmakers attempt to solve the student loan crisis, many are turning to increased financial literacy education as a possible solution. During the Every Child Achieves Act markup in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) proposed an amendment increasing financial literacy and federal financial aid-awareness programs for K-12 education. It passed by a voice vote. The need for improved financial education was also the subject of a recent op ed in The Hill.

Title IX Guidance. The U.S. Department of Education released a “Dear Colleague” letter recently to remind schools to appoint Title IX coordinators. The department requires all schools, including K-12 schools, as well as institutions of higher learning, to appoint an employee to oversee Title IX compliance efforts. In addition to the letter, the department released a guide to help schools and coordinators understand how to comply with the law.

VP Speaks Out Against Campus Sexual Assault. Vice President Joe Biden traveled to the University of Illinois recently to raise awareness about campus sexual assault. The Chicago Tribune reports that the vice president was promoting the administration’s “It’s On Us” initiative which encourages Americans to protest sexual assault. The vice president has been especially active in this initiative, traveling to campuses across the country and launching his own website to educate woman about campus sexual assaults.

Administrative Burden Survey. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators recently released its 2015 Administrative Burden Survey. In it, the organization listed nine recommendations for Congress and the Education Department to reduce the administrative burden on financial aid officers, allowing them more time to counsel students.

Using Student Data. A recent story in the Chronicle of Higher Education explores how colleges can use assessments to help their students succeed and graduate.

House Not Moving on NCLB Reauthorization. After the Senate HELP committee unanimously passed the bipartisan Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 out of committee, all eyes are turning to the House for its attempt to reauthorize the Early and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Earlier in the year, Chair John Kline of the House Education and Workforce Committee was slated to introduce his legislation, the Student Success Act, on the House floor. The introduction was delayed to allow more time for the unrelated Department of Homeland Security funding dispute and no later date was provided. Many news outlets reported that conservatives refused to support the legislation, saying it allowed the federal government too much power over K-12 education policy. In an interview in with The Hill this week, Kline said he believes the legislation will get to the House floor and House GOP leaders have promised it will, although no timeline has been provided. However, conservative members of the House remain skeptical about the bill, which also lacks Democratic support and has a veto threat hanging over it.

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 April 27, 2015. 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:   


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