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President to President
Molly Corbett Broad's weekly email newsletter to higher education leaders.

President to President: ACE Testifies at House Hearing on HEA Reauthorization

Vol. 14, No. 12

  • ACE Testifies at House Hearing on Higher Education Act Reauthorization
  • Proposed Senate Immigration Reform Bill Includes Version of DREAM Act
  • ACE, Higher Education Groups Submit Comments to House Tax Reform Working Groups
  • IN BRIEF: Supreme Court Decision in Fisher v. UT Expected Soon; ED Schedules New Hearings on Higher Education Rulemaking; Sen. Boxer Dear Colleague Letter on Pell Grants

The House and Senate turned their attention this week to the Higher Education Act (HEA), the primary law governing federal higher education programs, which expires at the end of 2013.

ACE Senior Vice President Terry Hartle was invited to speak before the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training Tuesday at the hearing "Keeping College Within Reach: The Role of Federal Student Aid Programs" as Congress prepares to address HEA reauthorization.

Terry's testimony provided a basic historical overview of federal higher education policy and drew upon that history to identify lessons learned for the upcoming HEA process. The issue that rose to the top of the discussion, from Terry's statement and the testimony of the other panel members, was how to simplify the complex federal financial aid system, beginning with the application process, the long and complicated Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Panelists also discussed at length the problem of state disinvestment in higher education and its role as a driver of college costs, calling on Congress to hold states accountable for maintaining or increasing their spending on public higher education. Trinity Washington University (DC) President Patricia McGuire focused her remarks on making continuing access to higher education a permanent public policy goal.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee also held a hearing Tuesday that signaled the beginning of the HEA reauthorization process in that body. A webcast of that hearing, "College Affordability: The Student Lens," can be viewed on the committee's website.

Congress last reauthorized HEA in 2008 with passage of the Higher Education Opportunity Act—five years late and after an unprecedented 14 extensions of the statutory deadline. With so many other issues ahead of it on the congressional agenda, we do not expect the new reauthorization to move quickly either.

In what might be the best chance since 1986 for a major overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, the so-called Gang of Eight group of senators Wednesday unveiled a comprehensive immigration bill, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity & Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S. 744). Of particular interest to higher education is the inclusion in the 844-page bill of the DREAM Act, which ACE has supported since it was first introduced a decade ago.

Under the DREAM Act, formally known as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, undocumented immigrants would be eligible to pursue citizenship if they entered the country under the age of 16, earned a high school diploma or GED here, and attended college for at least two years or served in the military for at least four years. The bill would allow these immigrants to attain lawful permanent resident status more quickly, with a wait time of five years, rather the 10 years required of others. The bill would also retroactively repeal Section 505 of the 1996 Immigration Reform Act, which would provide more flexibility to states that have been providing state financial aid or in-state tuition to undocumented students, or states that may choose to do so in the future.

In addition to the DREAM Act, there are other provisions of interest to higher education in the immigration legislation, including a proposal to raise the cap on H-1B temporary work visas from 65,000 to 110,000. The proposal would set aside 40 percent of that total for workers with advanced degrees and individuals who had earned advanced degrees in STEM fields from American institutions within the previous five years. Another 25,000 visas would go to individuals with advanced degrees in the STEM fields—an increase from the current 20,000 exemption for all advanced-degree holders.

In addition, students applying for visas to attend an American institution would no longer have to prove that they would leave the country after graduation (known as "intent to return").

For a summary and FAQ on the legislation, see Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-FL) website.

As you may recall, ACE Senior Vice President Terry Hartle testified last week before the House Ways and Means Committee's Education and Family Benefits Tax Reform Working Group, telling lawmakers that the higher education community strongly supports the existing framework of major federal higher education tax provisions but also sees options to enhance the effectiveness of many of them.

This week, on behalf of a number of higher education associations, I submitted formal written comments to that working group, addressing in detail such tax provisions as the American Opportunity Tax Credit and Student Loan Interest Deduction, as well as comments to the Ways and Means Committee's Charitable/Exempt Organizations Tax Reform Working Group.

In the comments to the working group examining charitable/exempt organizations, we stressed the importance of the itemized deduction for charitable giving, which has been a potential target of some in Washington for a number of months now in the search for more tax revenue. You may remember that ACE and a coalition of higher education associations last year sent letters to the president and Congress sounding a similar warning about considering changes to the charitable giving tax deduction as part of any fiscal deal. The comments also addressed the IRA Charitable Rollover.

IN BRIEF

The Supreme Court is expected to hand down its decision soon in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (UT), a case involving the constitutionality of the university's use of race and ethnicity in its admissions process. This will be the first Supreme Court ruling on race and ethnicity in college admissions since 2003. The case is on appeal from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which upheld a 2009 lower court ruling that UT did not infringe on the civil rights of two white students who were refused admission to the university. ACE filed an amicus brief on behalf of UT last fall, and we are watching this case very closely and will have a full analysis after the decision is announced.

The Education Department (ED) announced this week that it will begin conversations with the higher education community on new rules in a wide range of areas, including state authorization for online programs, issues surrounding institutions' management of federal student aid funds and how to define "gainful employment." Hearings on these subjects will be held in May in San Francisco, Minneapolis and the District of Columbia. Based on the comments gathered at the hearings, ED will draft a list of topics to be considered by rulemaking committees. Negotiations would likely begin this fall.

Sen. Barbara Boxer's (D-CA) office circulated an email last week asking her Senate colleagues to sign on to her letter urging Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education subcommittee appropriators to maintain Pell Grant eligibility and sustain Pell Grant funding for FY 2014. The current signers are Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Carl Levin (D-MI), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Her office would appreciate higher education community efforts to contact senators to encourage them to sign the letter, and I encourage you to call this missive to the attention of your lawmakers. The deadline is April 25.

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE