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

President to President: Obama, Senators Offer Immigration Reform Proposals

Vol. 14, No. 4

  • Obama, Senators Offer Immigration Reform Proposals
  • Senate Approves Debt Ceiling Measure; No Movement on Sequestration
  • CFPB to Probe Campus Financial Products
  • IN BRIEF: HHS Releases Final Rules on Self-Funded Student Health Plans; ED Issues Guidance on Disabled Athletes; One Month to Go Until ACE's 95th Annual Meeting

As we begin the month of February, Congress and the White House have taken up yet another high-profile issue, adding comprehensive immigration reform to an already packed agenda that includes gun control legislation and the full range of budget challenges that must be sorted out.

President Obama laid out his immigration reform plans in a Las Vegas speech Tuesday afternoon, on the heels of a similar proposal unveiled Monday by a bipartisan group of eight senators. As expected, both plans have a strong higher education element. They call for expedited citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States by their parents—the long-awaited DREAM Act, which ACE has supported since it was first introduced in 2001. And both would make it easier for foreign students in STEM fields to get visas and green cards after completing their degree at a U.S. college or university. It is unclear whether other issues we monitor—such as expanding the number of non-immigrant, H-1B visas for high-skilled workers—are directly addressed by either proposal.

At this point there is no formal bill, but the president warned in his speech he would send his own legislation to Capitol Hill if lawmakers do not move forward promptly. Immigration reform in some iteration has been gaining increased bipartisan support in Congress since last year's election. We expect to see movement of some sort relatively soon.

You can read a brief side-by-side comparison of the Obama and Senate plans here.

The Senate voted yesterday to suspend the country's debt ceiling until May 19, moving attention to the next potential fiscal crisis: the debate over how to deal with the looming across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration currently set to hit March 1.

The devastating impact on higher education of sequestration, originally slated to take effect Jan. 1 until the American Taxpayer Relief Act (H.R. 8) delayed it to March, is the focus of a brief paper we issued this week. Unfortunately, neither the House nor the Senate has given any hint about what they might do to forestall sequestration. There was little sign that this week's bad economic news would convince either side to take action, and a growing chorus on both sides is saying the cuts might actually kick in. However, this is a town and an institution known for its last-minute deals, so anything could still happen.

The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced Thursday that it is launching an inquiry into financial products, such as debit cards, marketed to students through colleges and universities.

As you may recall, the National Association of College and University Business Officers in December released new guidance for campuses that offer students debit cards. That came after some members of Congress voiced concerns about business arrangements between financial institutions and colleges and universities to produce student IDs that may also function as debit or prepaid cards and be used to disburse financial aid. (You also may remember my Aug. 15 letter on the subject.)

CFPB has requested input from the public, students, families, the higher education community and financial institutions on these products. To learn more or to submit comments, visit the CFPB website.

IN BRIEF

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a proposal on Wednesday that would allow self-funded student health insurance plans to be recognized as providing "minimal essential coverage" under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the health care reform bill signed into law in 2010 that includes a mandate to purchase health insurance. There are more than 30 not-for-profit higher education institutions offering self-funded health insurance plans, which cover more than 300,000 students. The individual mandate takes effect in 2014. We are pleased HHS has provided some guidance in this area.

The Education Department's Office for Civil Rights issued a "Dear Colleague" letter last week to school districts on providing access to sports for students with disabilities. Schools will be required to make "reasonable modifications" to accommodate all students, as long as these modifications do not fundamentally alter the way the sport is played. Although the letter focuses on K-12, it says that "students with disabilities at the postsecondary level must also be provided an equal opportunity to participate in athletics, including intercollegiate, club, and intramural athletics." We will be watching for further developments and clarification on the application of this guidance to college sports.

Lastly this week, I hope you all have marked your calendars to attend our Annual Meeting, which begins in a month in Washington, DC. Federal policy is always a strong focus at our meetings, but even more so in the years we convene in Washington. There is much to discuss now that the new Congress and President Obama's second term are both in full swing. We will offer a series of sessions as part of our exclusive programming for presidents and chancellors that will address public policy issues and feature ACE Senior Vice President Terry Hartle's take on the year ahead. For complete details and to register, see the Annual Meeting website.

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE