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

White House Talks Access for Low-Income Students

Jan. 13-17, 2014 ~ Vol. 15, No. 1

  • ​White House Talks Access for Low-Income Students With Higher Education Leaders
  • Congress Approves FY 2014 Omnibus Spending Bill
  • IN BRIEF: Senate HELP Committee on TRIO, GEAR UP Programs; VAWA Rulemaking Begins; Sens. Harkin, Carper Write DoD About Transition Assistance Program; Panel Discussion on Fisher Decision Now on YouTube; New CAOs Association to Gather at ACE Annual Meeting; Reps. George Miller, Buck McKeon Announce Retirement

I had the occasion to join more than 100 college and university presidents and other higher education leaders yesterday at the White House, where the focus was on increasing access to higher education for low-income students.

The Action on College Opportunity​ event featured President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama and included panels on how to enroll more low-income students and help them succeed. Mrs. Obama said that she would be taking an expanded role​ in this area during her remaining time in the White House. We are very pleased she has chosen to take college access as a signature issue, given the extraordinary influence she wields in the public sphere. 

There was an enthusiastic and purposeful discussion over what many of us believe is at the heart of our mission and values: our commitment to serving students who otherwise might not get a college education. The daylong event galvanized energy and attention on sharing innovative ideas and speaking about the things that presidents don’t always have the chance to discuss.

It appears there may be more White House gatherings to delve more deeply into the four primary topics we discussed: connecting more low-income students to the school that is right for them and ensuring more students graduate; increasing the pool of students preparing for college through early interventions; leveling the playing field in college advising and test preparation; and seeking breakthroughs in remedial education. I understand some of the proposals discussed yesterday might find their way into the president’s State of the Union Address later this month as illustrations of the strong efforts colleges are making toward this goal. I will keep you posted.

To view the White House report on Increasing College Opportunity for Low-Income Students, click here. To view the list of “Commitments to Action on College Opportunity” made by many of our member institutions, click here​.

Big news this week on the appropriations front: Congress approved a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending package for fiscal year (FY) 2014 to fund the federal government through Sept. 30. The news for colleges and universities is largely positive: the bill includes increases for research and student aid programs that begin to restore spending to pre-sequestration levels​

The measure, known as the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 (H.R. 3547)​ puts specifics on the budget agreement​ the House and Senate passed in December (most of the government has been operating at FY 2013 levels since FY 2014 began on Oct. 1). The House voted 359-67 Wednesday to pass the bill, with the Senate following yesterday with a vote of 72-26. 

While research funding is still far below recent levels, overall, higher education programs do well under the bill relative to many other areas of the budget:

  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will receive an increase of $1 billion over FY 2013, for a total of $29. 9 billion. Sequestration cuts eliminated $1.55 billion from NIH in 2013. 
  • The National Science Foundation will receive an increase of $287 million over FY 2013, for a total of $7.2 billion. The total still leaves the agency’s funding about $69 million lower than it was before sequestration. 
  • The Pell Grant Program will be funded at last year’s level, but increases in mandatory spending are expected to bump up the maximum award next year by $85, to $5,730. Under the proposal, the Education Department also would be required to provide Congress with more information about enrollment and graduation rates for Pell Grant recipients. 
  • The Federal Work-Study program budget will increase by $49 million to a total of $975 million, just barely below pre-sequestration levels. 
  • The Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program will increase by $37 million to a total of $733 million, just $2 million below pre-sequestration levels. 
  • Workforce Investment Act grants will receive $2.6 billion, $121 million more than in FY 2013. These state grants, administered by the Department of Labor, are for job training and assistance for low-income workers.
  • The Obama administration’s “First in the World” initiative will be funded at $75 million. The program would give grants to colleges pursuing innovative strategies aimed at improving educational outcomes and efficiency.
  • Congressional appropriators also set aside $1 million for a National Research Council study on the impact of federal regulations and reporting requirements on colleges and universities. This study is the result of a provision authored by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) in the 2008 Higher Education Act reauthorization.

The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy Jan. 14 that supports the omnibus. We also submitted a letter to the House on behalf of 17 other higher education groups supporting the bill. 


College access was also on the agenda in Congress this week, with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions holding a hearing yesterday on “Strengthening Federal Access Programs to Meet 21st Century Needs: A Look at TRIO and GEAR UP.” To see a list of witnesses and view a webcast of that hearing, click here​.

The first of three negotiated rulemaking sessions on the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which President Obama signed last March, began this week. The law imposes new obligations on colleges and universities under its Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (“SaVE Act”) provision, which expands the information colleges must incorporate into their annual crime reports to include acts of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. The next session is Feb. 24-25, and the final is April 1.

Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Thomas Carper (D-DE) sent a letter this week to the Department of Defense, requesting that it take steps to address inaccuracies and information gaps in the higher education portion of its Transition Assistance Program. This portion of the Transition Assistance Program is intended to give departing service members the skills and knowledge needed to (1) select an institution of higher education that meets their career goals, and (2) navigate the complexities of using their G.I. Bill benefits and federal student aid to finance their postsecondary education. Click here​ to read the senators’ critique in full. 

Now available on YouTube: ACE General Counsel Ada Meloy moderated a panel discussion hosted by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice on Sept. 27, 2013, in the wake of the June 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. Click here​ to watch the discussion, which featured speakers from both agencies as well as Nancy Cantor, chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark (NJ), and Marvin Krislov, president of Oberlin College (OH). Also see the document released at the event, Questions and Answers About Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin​

I encourage you to inform your chief academic officer (CAO) that the first national professional organization representing CAOs from all sectors of higher education will vote on its bylaws and conduct other business during a session at ACE’s 96th Annual Meeting, March 8-11, 2014, in San Diego. Eligible institutions are encouraged to join the Association of Chief Academic Officers (ACAO)​ as charter members. The ACAO business session and other ACE Annual Meeting sessions for CAOs are scheduled for Sunday, March 9. 

Lastly this week, two congressmen who for decades have been prominent figures in federal higher education policy announced their retirement: Reps. George Miller (D-CA) and Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA)​. Mr. Miller has been a fierce advocate of higher education throughout his long career, counting among his greatest accomplishments his efforts to boost funding for Pell Grants and other student aid programs. Mr. McKeon served for many years on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and counts among his signature issues reform of the student loan program. Their voices will be missed in Washington. 

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE​ ​​