Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

President to President

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

Budget Committee Reaches Deal; House Approves Measure

Dec. 9-13, 2013 ~ Vol. 14., No. 40

  • Budget Committee Reaches Deal; House Approves Measure
  • Senate HELP Committee Holds Hearing on Accreditation
  • ACE Submits Amicus Brief in U.Va. FOIA Case
  • Coalition Issues Statement on Patent Transparency and Improvements Act
  • ACE Annual Meeting to Look at New Technologies and Higher Education; Early Registration Ends Today

In a welcome development, budget negotiators Tuesday announced a bipartisan deal to set spending levels for the federal government through fiscal year 2015 and partially replace sequestration cuts with other savings. The House last night approved the measure 332-94, sending the bill to the Senate for its expected final passage. 

House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) had until today to return a plan to Congress, an outcome of the October deal to reopen the federal government. The current stopgap funding measure is scheduled to expire Jan. 15.

The agreement—known as the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013—sets “top-line” spending and revenue figures for the next two fiscal years and partially replaces the sequester (the across-the-board spending cuts triggered earlier this year following prior failures to reach a budget agreement) with other cuts and non-tax revenues (such as higher retirement benefit contributions for some federal employees and an increase in airline ticket fees). Once the final budget is approved, the 12 appropriations subcommittees have until Jan. 15 to decide on specific funding levels for individual agencies and programs for the current fiscal year.

Specifically, for FY 2014, overall federal spending will be $1.012 trillion and for FY 2015, $1.014 trillion. The agreement replaces $63 billion in sequester cuts with a combination of other savings. The bill also includes an additional $22.5 billion devoted to deficit reduction.

On the higher education front, the deal is expected to go some distance to alleviate cuts to campus-based financial aid programs and federal research agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation. This funding is currently in line for a second round of mandated sequestration reductions in January. The higher budget caps for both years should allow for the reversal of some damaging cuts, and should, at minimum, prevent any further cuts for the next two years. (Click here to read my Huffington Post piece on research funding and our country’s innovation deficit, and here to read our paper from earlier this year on sequestration’s impact on higher education.)

We sent a letter to the House yesterday ahead of the vote, supporting the bill as providing a measure of federal funding stability and a positive step toward reversing some of the detrimental sequestration cuts.

President Obama praised the deal as “a good first step” and said he will sign the legislation if it reaches his desk.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held the latest in its series of hearings in preparation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, this one focusing on accreditation

“Accreditation as Quality Assurance: Meeting the Needs of 21st Century Learning” looked at ways to update the accreditation system to keep up with the many forces currently transforming higher education. There seemed to be general agreement that the system needs to be more flexible, transparent and responsive, although how quickly we should move on changing it was up for debate.

Ralph Wolff, former president of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, emphasized the need for data on what works and what doesn’t and for using pilot programs at experimental sites. Daniel Phelan, president of Jackson College (MI), told committee members that accreditors are not a barrier to innovation on his campus and that moving forward we need a thoughtful, deliberative approach on accreditation.

Also testifying were Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, and Laura King, executive director of the Council on Education for Public Health.

To read witness testimony and view a webcast of the hearing, see the committee’s website.

We filed an amicus brief yesterday in the Supreme Court of Virginia in the case of American Tradition Institute v. the University of Virginia (U.Va.).

U.Va. has been engaged in legal proceedings for the past three years to protect various documents and emails relating to former U.Va. Professor Michael Mann’s climate change research, which was subject to attack by various activist organizations. The commonwealth’s lower court ruled in favor of U.Va., finding that many of the records were protected by provisions of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. The plaintiffs then appealed the case to the state Supreme Court.

Our brief, joined by other associations, including the National Academy of Sciences, focuses on how academic freedom and the First Amendment are central to the protection of research and to the innovation essential to our nation. We also argue that reversal of the lower court’s ruling would remove any incentive for those making Freedom of Information Act requests to be reasonable in their demands for documents, and the costs to public universities could escalate. 

As part of our work with the coalition of groups working on patent issues, we sent a statement this week to the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Patent Transparency and Improvements Act of 2013 (S. 1720) in advance of a Dec. 17 hearing on the measure

S. 1720 effectively extends the enhancements of the comprehensive patent reform legislation passed in 2011 by targeting abusive litigation practices that corrode the ability of the patent system to take advantage of the law’s improvements to innovation and economic competitiveness. 

As I wrote to you last week, we are very concerned about several provisions in the Innovation Act (H.R. 3309), the companion bill to S. 1720 the House passed Dec. 5. While the Senate bill omits the more problematic provisions in the House bill, our statement suggests several further modifications to ensure that universities are not penalized by overly broad and costly requirements.

Panels exploring the impact of new technologies on higher education will be a highlight of ACE’s 96th Annual Meeting: Seizing Opportunity, March 8-11, 2014, in San Diego. 

A March 11 plenary panel will explore how higher education institutions can employ data analytics in areas ranging from enrollment management to online learning. A session featuring findings from ACE’s Presidential Innovation Lab will be held March 9. Other technology-related panels will include sessions on how MOOCs are evolving and how to address the generation of “digital natives.” 

Early bird registration for the meeting ends today. A full list of panels and presenters will be announced soon on the Annual Meeting website.

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE