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

House Budget Targets Pell Grants, Student Loans

March 31-April 4, 2014 ~ Vol. 15, No. 12

  • House GOP Budget Proposes Freezing Maximum Pell Grant for 10 Years, Increasing Cost of Student Loan
  • Panel Reaches Consensus on Draft Rules for New Campus Safety Law
  • ACE, Higher Education Associations Urge Lawmakers to Extend Tuition Tax Deduction and IRA Charitable Rollover
  • New Amicus Brief Filed in Faculty Unionization Case at Pacific Lutheran
  • IN BRIEF: ACE Submits Comments on ADA Regulatory Changes; House Holds Hearing on Serving Contemporary Postsecondary Students

It was a busy week for higher education in Washington, with developments on the FY 2015 budget, rules implementing the campus-related provisions in the Violence Against Women Act, and tax extensions for students and families. 

House Republicans Wednesday introduced a budget proposal for FY 2015​ that would freeze the maximum Pell Grant award for 10 years and roll back other recent expansions of that program as part of a budget-balancing plan that cuts $5.1 trillion over a decade.

The proposal, by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), stands little chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate, where leaders have said they don’t plan to draft a budget this year because spending levels were already set by the bipartisan deal reached in December. But it is worth being alert to the priorities laid out in the plan as appropriators begin negotiating the spending bills for FY 2015, which begins Oct. 1. 

Other than freezing the maximum Pell Grant award at its current level ($5,730) for 10 years, the budget would impose an unspecified income cap on recipients, as well as place Pell Grants off limits to students who attend college less than half time. All Pell Grant funding would be placed in the discretionary spending category, meaning all funding each year would be at the discretion of lawmakers. 

The plan also calls for changes to federal student loans and research funding. It would eliminate the in-school interest exemption for undergraduate federal loans (the in-school exemption for graduate and professional students was eliminated as of July 1, 2012) and repeal the recent expansion of income-based repayment benefits. The proposal seeks to end all federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

The House Budget Committee approved the Ryan plan Wednesday evening, sending it to the floor for consideration. That vote is expected soon.

The Department of Education (ED) panel working on draft regulations for the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE Act), part of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act signed into law in March 2013, reached consensus on proposed language Wednesday in the last of its three negotiated rulemaking sessions. 

The SaVE Act provision expands the information colleges must incorporate into their annual crime reports and includes updated definitions of domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking, according to the final draft agreed upon by negotiators. The panel also agreed on language that would help institutions better manage the conflicts between protecting student confidentiality and safety that can occur in some situations, as well as providing more flexibility in the timeframe for a “prompt, fair, and impartial proceeding” to deal with complaints. Campuses would be required to have ongoing programs and awareness campaigns aimed at preventing dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, and these programs would have to be tailored to the campus culture and based on research or assessed for effectiveness. 

The rule allows any student in a campus sexual assault proceeding to have an advisor of his or her choice. Some colleges have historically opposed such a rule because it runs the risk of transforming a campus hearing into a criminal trial-like proceeding.

ED will publish the draft rule in the Federal Register, likely before the end of the month, after which there will be a 45-day comment period. Final regulations are expected to be published before Nov. 1. Because consensus was reached, the agreed upon regulations are unlikely to change very much. 

The Senate Finance Committee yesterday marked up legislation to extend various tax breaks that expired at the end of 2013, including a two-year extension (through 2015) for the above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses, the IRA Charitable Rollover and the R&D tax credit.

I sent a letter last Friday​ to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) and ranking Democratic Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, and to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and ranking Republican Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, urging them to include these extensions in any tax legislation enacted this year. However, while the Senate committee plans to advance its bill soon, the House is unlikely to do so, meaning that final congressional action will not take place until a likely lame-duck session in the fall.

Along with six of our colleague higher education associations, we submitted an amicus brief​ last Friday to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in support of Pacific Lutheran University (WA) in a case dealing with the unionization of full-time, non-tenure-track instructors. 

In the brief, filed in the case Pacific Lutheran University v. Service Employees International Union, the groups urged the NLRB to adhere to the landmark 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision in National Labor Relations Board v. Yeshiva University, which held that private college faculty members play a substantial role in managing their institution—especially because of their control over the curriculum and course selection—and therefore are ineligible for the collective bargaining rights available to other college employees. (States determine whether public college and university faculty members may unionize.)

Pacific Lutheran is asking the NLRB to overturn a regional director’s decision that its full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members—who have full voting rights in the faculty assembly—do not possess enough managerial authority to be precluded from unionizing under Yeshiva.

NLRB raised many of the same questions in 2012 in a similar case involving the unionization of faculty members at Pennsylvania’s Point Park University​. As in the Pacific Lutheran case, the regional director and the Board originally determined that Point Park’s faculty members did not fall within the exclusion for managerial employees. That determination was reversed by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and remanded to the NLRB.

ACE also filed a brief in the Point Park case, which is still pending.

IN BRIEF

ACE sent comments to the Department of Justice (DOJ) Monday in response to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking​ to amend the regulations that implement the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) to incorporate changes made by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. We believe the proposed rules go beyond—and in some cases are contrary to—the legislation, and drastically underestimate the costs of compliance for colleges and universities, although we did gain some recognition in the legislative process for the unique challenges higher education faces trying to accommodate disabled students while maintaining academic standards and fairness for all students. Click here​ to read the full comments.

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing Wednesday on "Keeping College Within Reach: Meeting the Needs of Contemporary Students." As the committee continues working to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, the hearing focused on examining policies and programs to support continued innovation in postsecondary education. Among the witnesses were George A. Pruitt, president of Thomas Edison State College (NJ) and Brooks Keel, president of Georgia Southern University. To learn more about the hearing or to watch a live webcast, see the committee’s website​

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE