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

House Committee Passes HEA Bills

July 7-11, 2014 ~ Vol. 15, No. 23

  • House Committee Passes Package of Higher Education Act Bills
  • Sen. McCaskill Releases Campus Sexual Assault Survey Results
  • Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Sent to President for Signature
  • ACE Amicus Brief Supports Northwestern in College Athlete Unionization Case
  • IN BRIEF: Tuition Assistance MOU Revised; Senate Hearing on College Athletes; Testimony on Higher Education and the Tax Code; Talking Points for House Tax Simplification Bill; Bereaved Borrowers Bill of Rights; ACE Seeks Retired Presidents to Serve as Awards Judges; Mary Spangler Passes Away

With less than a month to go before the August congressional break, the House Education and the Workforce Committee dove headlong into the Higher Education Act (HEA) yesterday, passing three bills as the initial legislative action of its reauthorization effort.

As you know, HEA is the primary law that governs federal financial aid and other programs that support higher education in the United States. Last reauthorized in 2008 after five years of temporary extensions, it is now running on yet another extension after expiring at the end of FY 2013. Keep in mind that at the end of this Congress all legislation—including all bills passed by one chamber or the other—expires and the process must begin anew.

ACE and a group of higher education associations sent a letter Wednesday to the committee in advance of the markup providing initial observations about the package of bills. The letter to Chairman John Kline (R-MN) says that the three bills—the Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act (H.R. 4983), the Advancing Competency-Based Education Demonstration Project Act (H.R. 3136), and the Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act (H.R. 4984)—are a “welcome step toward reauthorization.”

It is unclear how much further the House will be able to progress on these measures this year—when Congress returns in September, much of the fall will be absorbed by the upcoming midterm elections. Two HEA bills have been introduced in the Senate, one a comprehensive piece of legislation by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and the other a measure by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) that focuses on a number of specific issues, but the timeline of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is not yet known.

You likely have read some of the media coverage this week on Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-MO) report released Wednesday, Sexual Violence on Campus, based on the senator’s survey issued in April.

While we appreciate the senator’s commitment to addressing this extremely difficult and complex societal issue, we were hoping for a more constructive report, one that would have outlined clear areas where institutions and policymakers could work together—such as the need for additional research, better training and clear guidance from federal agencies.

The report claims that campuses are failing to deal with sexual assault, even when an overwhelming number of more than 300 responding institutions are clearly doing what the report calls for. It also diminishes the rights of the accused. What is most disappointing is the consistent reluctance in this report to recognize that these are incredibly difficult cases to investigate and resolve—cases that even law enforcement authorities are unwilling or unable to take on, despite the fact that colleges and universities often are desperate for their help. We will continue to work with Congress and the administration on this serious matter.

Legislation to update the Workforce Investment Act is headed to President Obama’s desk following overwhelming bipartisan support from both chambers of Congress.

The House voted 415-6 Wednesday to approve the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (H.R. 803) , following the Senate’s 95-3 vote last month. The bill would streamline the federally funded system of workforce development programs, ending 15 of them and shrinking state and local workforce investment boards. It would also apply a standard set of outcome measures to evaluate all federal job-training programs.

This bill has been some 10 years in the making and is long overdue. Its passage is particularly important to the nation’s community colleges, and I am very glad to see work on it concluded.

Students who participate in intercollegiate athletics and receive athletic scholarships are not employees covered by federal labor law, says an amicus brief filed July 3 by ACE and four other higher education associations with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The brief was filed in support of Northwestern University’s (IL) appeal of a March decision by a regional director of the NLRB to classify the school’s scholarship football players as employees, and thus allow them to unionize.

The ACE brief notes that according to longstanding legal precedents and legislative intent, students cannot be classified as employees. For one thing, institutions’ missions are education (most do not earn a surplus from their athletics programs), and for another, student-athletes participate for their own benefit. Athletic scholarships are calibrated to the cost of attendance, not services rendered, and are similar to other forms of conditional financial aid. The Knight Commission, which has long studied intercollegiate athletics reform, rejected the same proposal that is now before the NLRB.

IN BRIEF

The Department of Defense has released a revised version of its memorandum of understanding (MOU) for its Tuition Assistance (TA) program, and participating colleges and universities now have until Sept. 5 to sign it. The new version incorporates a minor technical change. Please note, if you already have signed the MOU, you must sign a certification statement that you accept this change. The certification statement can be found at www.dodmou.com.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing Wednesday on “Promoting the Well-Being and Academic Success of College Athletes.” Discussion largely focused on the testimony of NCAA President Mark Emmert, who emphasized potential reforms the NCAA could pursue in response to pointed questions from the committee. One finding from Sen. McCaskill’s report—that 20 percent of colleges and universities give athletics departments oversight of sexual assault cases—surfaced in the hearing and appeared in much of the resulting media coverage. The full hearing is available on the committee’s website.

ACE along with eight other higher education associations sent testimony for the record this week to the Senate Finance Committee for its June 24 hearing on higher education and the tax code. The testimony discusses how students and families benefit from the current higher education provisions in the tax code and outlines how tax reform provides an excellent opportunity to improve them.

Also on the tax front, we have released a set of talking points on the Student and Family Tax Simplification Act (H.R. 3393) , which the House is expected to vote on next week. The bill would combine the Hope Scholarship Credit, the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC), and the tuition deduction into a single AOTC and make it permanent. While the streamlining of these tax incentives is a positive development, it comes at the expense of graduate and adult students who use the tuition deduction or the LLC, as well as many low- and middle-income undergraduate students, which is why we have indicated to the committee and members of the House that we cannot support this legislation.

Along with three other higher education associations, we recently sent a letter to Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA) in support of H.R. 4643, the Bereaved Borrowers' Bill of Rights Act of 2014. The bill would address problems the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has identified in how some lenders are treating cosigners of private student loans—specifically the practices of automatically placing into default a loan in good standing on the passing of a cosigner, and requiring a difficult and opaque process to release a cosigner from such loans. The legislation would help borrowers understand and meet their obligations while ensuring that they are not unduly harmed by circumstances beyond their control.

ACE is seeking recommendations for retired presidents or chancellors to serve as judges for the 2015 ACE/Fidelity Investments Award for Institutional Transformation and the TIAA-CREF Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence in Higher Education, which will be presented at the Council’s 97th Annual Meeting. If you know of a retired president or chancellor who is still active in the higher education community and would like to serve as a judge for these prestigious awards, please send the name and contact information to Hadja Bangura at hbangura@acenet.edu. Nominees must be submitted by Aug. 1.

Finally this week, it is with great sadness that I share the news of the death last month of Mary Spangler, who, as many of you know, served most recently as chancellor of the Houston Community College System (TX). Mary served as a member of the ACE Board of Directors beginning in March 2011, and on several ACE commissions, including the Commission on Leadership. The higher education community has lost a great leader and cherished friend, and our thoughts go out to her family.

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE