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

House Passes Bills on Taxes and Higher Education Act Reauthorization

July 21-25, 2014 ~ Vol. 15, No. 25

  • House Passes Bills on Taxes and Higher Education Act Reauthorization
  • ACE Comments on Proposed Changes to Clery Act
  • ACE, Other Organizations Submit Net Neutrality Comments
  • IN BRIEF: ACE Seeks Retired Presidents to Serve as Awards Judges; House Passes Bill Reauthorizing NACIQI and ACSFA

The main higher education action in Washington this week took place in the House, where lawmakers approved a package of Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization bills and a tax bill consolidating several important student financial aid provisions.

Three bills passed, two on Wednesday and one on Thursday, as the initial legislative action of the House’s effort to reauthorize HEA, 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.

The very specific measures are: the Advancing Competency-Based Education Demonstration Project Act (H.R. 3136), the Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act (H.R. 4984), and the Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act (H.R. 4983). I sent a letter Tuesday on behalf of ACE and 16 other higher education associations to Rep. John Kline (R-MN), chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, calling for the full House to move those bills forward but expressing some specific concerns lawmakers should address as the process continues.

It is important to 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. And while the House bills are important markers for that body, the HEA process in the Senate has been very different and it appears unlikely it will take up the House bills this year. 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.

Meanwhile, the House also passed the Student and Family Tax Simplification Act (H.R. 3393) Thursday. We sent a letter to the House last week outlining our concerns with that bill, which would permanently combine the Hope Scholarship Credit, the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC), and the tuition deduction into a single AOTC. While streamlining these tax incentives is a positive development, it comes at the expense of graduate and adult students—as well as many low- and middle-income undergraduate students—who use the tuition deduction or the LLC, which is why we have indicated to House members that we cannot support this legislation.

ACE submitted comments to the Department of Education (ED) July 21 on proposed regulations to implement changes to the Clery Act made by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization Act, which was signed into law last year.

As you know, the Clery Act, known formally as the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, requires colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to keep information and release annual reports about crime on and near their campuses. Among other things, VAWA expands the information colleges must incorporate into those reports, adding new “Clery crimes” of domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.

These regulations were subjected to a negotiated rulemaking process and the nonfederal negotiators and the Department of Education agreed on the exact language of the regulations. This means that the regulatory package is very unlikely to change. Our comments were in response to specific questions raised by the department and also reflected areas where we think the proposed regulations require more clarity.

Final regulations are expected to be published before Nov. 1. However, ED released a Dear Colleague letter July 14 advising institutions to “show a good-faith effort” to comply with the statute and include the new “Clery crimes” in their Oct. 1, 2014, Annual Security Report—which covers 2013—even before the rules are final.

ACE and 10 other organizations emphasized the importance of protecting and promoting an open Internet in comments filed July 18 with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as the agency considers so-called net neutrality rules.

The comments say that the FCC’s proposed rules “fall short of what is necessary to ensure that libraries, institutions of higher education, and the public at large will have access to an open Internet.”

The FCC is expected to reach a decision on final rules by the end of the year, but that timetable could slip. The FCC issued the call for public comments following a recent federal appeals court decision vacating network neutrality rules and creating an opportunity for Internet providers to potentially relegate online content and services of colleges, universities, and libraries to the “slow lane.”

ACE and other organizations also recently signed on to a set of net neutrality principles espousing similar views.

IN BRIEF

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 both 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, in other legislative news this week, the House passed a bill Wednesday to extend the operations of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) and the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance (ACSFA) for one year (H.R. 5134). These small agencies are part of the Higher Education Act and their operations will cease Sept. 30 unless they are extended. The Senate is expected to approve this measure.

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE