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

President Presents Community College Proposal in State of the Union Address

Jan. 19-23 ~ Vol. 16, No. 3

  • President Presents Community College Proposal in State of the Union Address
  • Immigration Innovation Act Would Implement Much-Needed Visa Reforms
  • Congressman Rangel Introduces Student Loan Interest Deduction Bill
  • IN BRIEF: DHS Alert on Cyber-related Scams Targeting Universities; 50th Anniversary of ACE Fellows Program to be Celebrated at ACE Annual Meeting

President Obama gave his second-to-last State of the Union Address Tuesday night, and, as expected, his proposal for two years of free community college was an important component of the “middle class economics” plan that he said will be the focus of his last two years in office.

The president described his America’s College Promise initiative as necessary to secure the nation’s future in a “21st century economy that rewards knowledge like never before.” The initiative would pay for two years of community college for students who maintain a 2.5 GPA, attend school at least half-time and make “steady progress” toward their degree. Federal funding would cover three-quarters of the cost of the initiative, and states would assume the balance.

The administration gave an advance look last weekend at the tax-reform plan that would be used in part to pay for the federal government’s share. The president is proposing to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans and financial firms by simplifying the tax code for individuals and eliminating some of the biggest loopholes that are only available to the wealthy and big corporations. The plan also would consolidate a series of education tax breaks into a single, permanent and expanded American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), elements of which we have long supported. (See Inside Higher Ed for more details.)

The administration faces an uphill battle in pushing the plan through a Republican-controlled Congress. However, while all the details have not yet been released, the proposal looks very similar to a Republican bill that cleared the House last summer: the Student and Family Tax Simplification Act (H.R. 3393). The effort to simplify the overly complicated tax provisions in that measure was a welcome development, but other provisions were quite problematic, as we wrote in a letter to the House in July.

The traditional order of business is for the White House to follow the State of the Union by releasing its budget for the upcoming fiscal year. President Obama will send his proposal for FY 2016 to Congress on Feb. 2, which should give us more information about his plans.

The president mentioned immigration only in passing during his address, but it continues to loom large as congressional Republicans attempt to defund the administration’s executive action on immigration reform announced in November. In the meantime, a group of senators have introduced legislation to tackle one part of the issue that the president’s executive action did not address in detail: visa reform.

We sent a letter of support yesterday to the sponsors of the bipartisan Immigration Innovation ("I-Squared") Act, which is aimed at expanding the ability of high-skilled workers to live and work in the United States. Introduced by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chris Coons (D-DE), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), the bill includes the following provisions that will impact students and campuses:

  • Increasing the cap on the number of H-1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000, allowing it to reach 195,000 in years of high demand;
  • Allowing foreign students studying for a bachelor’s degree or above to also pursue a path to permanent residency with employer sponsorship;
  • Exempting U.S. STEM advanced degree holders and outstanding professors and researchers from the employment-based green card cap; and
  • Reforming fees on H-1B visas and employment-based green cards and directing the revenue to fund a grant program to promote STEM education and worker retraining to be administered by the states.

Notably, the legislation defines STEM through the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) STEM list, which we strongly support. The DHS list includes important fields that have sometimes been excluded in other immigration reform bills, such as agricultural and natural resource sciences.

While the focus of this bill enjoys bipartisan support, it is not clear at this point what the timeline is in the Senate and how it will be received in the House.

Finally this week, we sent a letter of support Wednesday to Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) to endorse legislation he introduced to expand the student loan interest tax deduction. The bill would significantly expand the deduction by, among other things, increasing the deduction from $2,500 to $5,000 for individuals ($10,000 for joint filers), making permanent the elimination of the five-year limitation on the use of the deduction, and eliminating the income phase-out of $75,000 for individuals ($150,000 for joint filers) in the current deduction.

There is not yet a timeline for the House to consider this bill.

IN BRIEF

I wanted to pass along an alert from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Academic Engagement regarding cyber-related scams targeting universities, employees and students. The scams include attempts to get employees to divulge their personal payroll information and to steal student reimbursement money, such as student loan funds. You can provide more information to the appropriate administrators on your campus by sending them this link.

We will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the ACE Fellows Program at ACE’s 97th Annual Meeting, scheduled for March 14-17 in Washington, DC. ACE is proud to count among its members more than 70 former Fellows who are currently serving as presidents and chancellors of institutions across the country. I hope you are making plans to join us for the special events and programs we have planned. For more information and to register, see the Annual Meeting website.

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE