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

Appeals Court Upholds University of Texas at Austin's Consideration of Race in Admissions

July 14-18, 2014 ~ Vol. 15, No. 24

  • Appeals Court Upholds UT at Austin's Consideration of Race in Admissions
  • House Approves Permanent Extension of IRA Charitable Rollover
  • IN BRIEF: ED Reminder on VAWA; House to Vote on Tax Simplification Bill Next Week; Groups Release Net Neutrality Principles; Q&A on DoD Tuition Assistance MOU; Presidential Innovation Lab Papers; Senate Approves Terrorism Risk Insurance Bill

You likely heard the good news this week that a federal appeals court has upheld the University of Texas at Austin’s (UT) use of race as one factor in admissions decisions, finding that the university’s policy meets the standards set last year by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 2–1 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin​ said that “to deny U.T. Austin its limited use of race in its search for holistic diversity would hobble the richness of the educational experience” and fly in the face of previous Supreme Court rulings. (Click here​ to see the brief we filed to the court on behalf of 41 other higher education associations.)

The high court ruled last year on the UT case, saying that diversity on college campuses offers unique educational benefits to students and is a compelling government interest, but also applying strict standards under which race and ethnicity could be considered. The justices remanded the case back to the Fifth Circuit because that court did not hold UT to the demanding burden of strict scrutiny, and ordered it to consider whether the university’s admissions policies used race and ethnicity as part of a holistic admissions review narrowly tailored to achieve the educational benefits of diversity. 

We are heartened by this decision, which recognizes that the Supreme Court’s opinion did not close the door on using race and ethnicity in admissions when properly carried out in support of an institution’s mission. However, the ruling doesn’t mean the case is over; opponents have vowed to appeal and take the case back to the Supreme Court. All institutions should review this ruling carefully and think about whether their own policies could withstand a similar challenge.

The House yesterday voted 277-130 to approve a bill (H.R. 4619​) to permanently extend the Individual Retirement Account (IRA) Charitable Rollover, which expired at the end of 2013. 

The measure was part of a package of five tax bills on charitable giving that make up the Fighting Hunger Incentive Act of 2014 (H.R. 4719). The IRA provision permits individuals age 70½ and older to donate up to $100,000 from their IRAs and Roth IRAs to charities without having to count the distributions as taxable income. 

We sent a letter​ to the House in advance of the vote on behalf of 12 other higher education groups expressing our support for the measure. The IRA rollover has proven to be a valuable incentive to generate donations to colleges and universities, which are often used to support student financial aid. A permanent extension would enhance the rollover’s effectiveness by encouraging greater use by donors, who would be able to better plan their charitable giving. 

The prospects for the larger bill are not clear in the Senate, primarily because of its unfunded cost—an estimated $16 billion. As in the House, Senate Democrats are likely to oppose the bill without a source of revenue to cover its cost. The White House also is on record as opposing the measure over cost. 

IN BRIEF

The Education Department (ED) released a Dear Colleague​ this week about the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE Act), part of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act signed into law in March 2013, reminding institutions they need to make a good faith effort to comply now, before regulations are finalized. The SaVE Act expands the information colleges must incorporate into their annual crime reports and includes updated definitions of domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking, among other provisions. The final regulations implementing the law are expected before Nov. 1. 

We sent a letter​ to the House yesterday outlining our opposition to the Student and Family Tax Simplification Act (H.R. 3393)​, which is expected to come to the floor for a vote 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 House members that we cannot support this legislation. For more on the bill, see these talking points​.

ACE and 10 other organizations released a set of net neutrality principles​ last week in support of maintaining the openness of the Internet. The higher education and library associations signing on to the principles want the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt them as part of the agency’s response to a recent federal appeals court decision vacating network neutrality rules. The groups argue that new network neutrality rules based on these principles will ensure that the Internet remains a vital, vibrant platform for teaching, learning, research, and community support and engagement.

ACE and the National Association of College and University Business Officers have prepared a Q&A document​, addressing questions about the new memorandum of understanding (MOU) colleges and universities participating in the Department of Defense (DoD) Tuition Assistance Program must sign. Institutions have until Sept. 5 to sign the MOU to ensure service members on their campuses continue to receive tuition support. The new version incorporates a minor technical change from a version DoD released earlier this year. Institutions that have already signed that version must sign a new certification statement, available at www.dodmou.com​.

ACE released two reports this week​ inspired by the work of our Presidential Innovation Lab, an effort to explore the potential of educational innovations to boost the number of Americans able to earn a college degree. The first of these papers examines challenges to the traditional higher education business model that are driven largely by financial concerns. The second explores the potential need to redesign college and university faculty roles. My thanks to all those who participated in the lab. 

The Senate yesterday voted 93-4 to approve the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (TRIA) of 2014 (S. 2244)​. Originally enacted in 2002 and reauthorized twice already, TRIA created a public-private risk sharing mechanism which has helped ensure that colleges and universities can purchase sufficient affordable insurance coverage to protect against losses resulting from a terrorist attack. We sent a letter Wednesday to senators in advance of the vote supporting reauthorization. The existing TRIA program expires at the end of 2014.

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE​​​​​