Privacy Matters

DC Shuttle …

Student Data Privacy Bill. Two bipartisan pairs of legislators are working on bills to protect student data after President Barack Obama called for a stronger plan in January. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) released a bill last week, called the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act of 2015, according to the New York Times. An earlier draft of their bill was criticized by privacy advocates, who have since been working with the lawmakers to fix areas of concern. Meanwhile, Rep. John Kline (R-MN) and Rep. Robert Scott (D-VA), chair and ranking member of the House Education and Workforce Committee respectively, released a discussion draft in early April of legislation which would amend the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to better protect student data, according to Education Week. On the Senate side, Politico reports that Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) is crafting legislation.

Improving College Access. The House Education and Workforce Committee’s Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training held a hearing entitled, “Improving College Access and Completion for Low-Income and First-Generation Students.” Much of the conversation focused on ways federal funding can be best used to support these students as they work to earn degrees. The witnesses offered several recommendations, including the continuation of the Pell Grant program and changes in funding flexibility. Several of them also advocated for other federal and institutional services which work to support students, including Academic Advancement Programs and TRIO programs as well as programs that engage K-12 students. The discussion also touched upon problems facing minority-serving institutions. This hearing is likely only one of several the committee will hold as it starts to attempt a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Said Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC), “As we work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, we want to … study the effectiveness of existing strategies so that more disadvantaged students can achieve the dream of higher education.”

Budget Plan. The compromise budget reached by the joint House and Senate committee includes cuts in education spending, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Among the proposed changes is the elimination of mandatory Pell Grant money, making the program subject to the annual appropriations process. The budget plan also assumes lawmakers will reverse the recent expansion of income-based repayment for student loans.

Early College Plan. Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced the Go to High School, Go to College Act. The legislation would allow Pell Grant-eligible students to use the grants to earn college credits while still in high school. According to a joint press release issued by the senators, students who complete college courses while in high school are more likely to complete college. Representatives Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Chris Gibson (R-NY) introduced the legislation into the House, according to the Portsmouth Daily Times.

Committee Advances 529 Changes. The Senate Finance Committee advanced changes to the 529 college savings accounts. The committee voted unanimously to advance the legislation, which would make it easier for students to use the accounts to purchase computers and Internet access. According to Forbes, the bill is similar to one that passed the House in February.

Special Education Finance Final Rule Released, The U.S. Department of Education issued a final rule to help school districts comply with the special education financial provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), according to Education Week.

President’s Book Initiative. President Obama announced new programs under his ConnectED initiative, which aims to transform education through digital content. The first program provides more eBooks to low-income children through private-sector commitments. The second, the ConnectEd Library Challenge, aims to allow all students access to public libraries.

College Signing Day. First Lady Michelle Obama honored College Signing Day (May 1) by delivering a speech at Wayne State University in Detroit as part of her Reach Higher initiative, which encourages students to continue education past high school. She encouraged students across the country to participate in the day by releasing a College Signing Day Kit and asking them to share pictures of their college gear on social media with the hashtag #ReachHigher.

Greek Life Lobbies on the Hill. A group representing 100 fraternities and sororities visited Capitol Hill to encourage Congress to pass legislation that would allow charitable donations to fund construction of Greek-letter houses, according to the Washington Post.

How America Pays for College Report. Sallie Mae released its annual How America Saves for College report. The study found that 89% of parents believe college is an investment in their child’s future but only 48% of families are saving for college.

Loan Counseling. The complicated student loan counseling process was the subject of a recent New York Times article. It raises questions about the effectiveness of federally mandated counseling and encourages parents to be more involved in the process.

Analyzing State Financial Aid. The bipartisan Education Commission of the States released a report studying state financial aid. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the report found that states spent more than $11 billion on financial aid in 2013, helping 4.5 million students. The report includes recommendations for policymakers to make financial aid more helpful for students.

Teachers Leaving the Profession? Newly released federal data shows that 10% of teachers leave the profession after their first year, a much lower statistic than previously thought, according to the Washington Post. The data also found that teachers who were assigned mentors were more likely to continue than those who weren’t.

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 4, 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: www.newenglandcouncil.com.   


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