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

President to President: Supreme Court Decisions Expected Next Week in Fisher v. UT, Other Higher Education Cases

June 17-21, 2013 ~ Vol. 14, No. 19

  • Supreme Court Expected to Announce Decisions Next Week in Fisher v. University of Texas, Other Higher Education Cases
  • Senate Student Loan Interest Rate Resolution Still Up in the Air
  • Work Continues on Senate Immigration Bill
  • Higher Education Groups to Launch Student Achievement Measure Project
It continues to be a busy time for higher education in Washington, with several Supreme Court decisions still pending, the deadline to avoid the doubling of student loan interest rates still looming, and work on the Senate immigration bill continuing.

The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to release decisions in three cases we have been watching this term, and with one week left in the current session, we expect all three decisions next week.

I know many of you have been following the most high profile of the higher education cases, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which addresses the constitutionality of the university’s use of race and ethnicity in its admissions process. The other two cases are University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, which involves a professor who claims the university retaliated against him after he complained that a supervisor discriminated against him, and Vance v. Ball State, which could decide who can be considered a “job supervisor” in a federal workplace discrimination lawsuit.

I will have full details on these decisions as soon as possible after they are handed down.

With interest rates on federally subsidized student loans set to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent July 1, a new proposal to address the problem is being floated in the Senate.

The proposal draws on concepts that have been introduced by Republicans and the White House, including tying interest rates to the financial markets. The effort, which is being led by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Angus King (I-ME), could be a breakthrough in the stalemate over student loans, with progress stalled since the Senate rejected two competing bills earlier this month. The Senate action, and the fact that it is similar to what the House has approved, is good news for millions of students.

The House passed a Republican bill (H.R. 1911) in May that would base interest rates on the 10-year Treasury note and allow the rates to fluctuate but cap how high they could rise. Any bill the Senate passes must still be reconciled with the House legislation.

Work on the comprehensive immigration bill continues in the Senate. This week, the outlook for final passage seems positive, based on an agreement reached on a border security amendment and an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office that the measure would reduce the deficit by $197 billion over its first decade. Both of those developments could pave the way for increased GOP support in the Senate.

The centerpiece of the legislation, drafted by four Democrats and four Republicans, is a 13-year path to citizenship for many of the 11 million people now in the country without legal status. This path would be expedited for DREAM Act students, young people brought illegally to the United States as children. The version of the DREAM Act included in the measure removes the age cap for eligibility, repeals the current federal law that limits states' options to provide in-state tuition to undocumented students, and allows DREAM Act students to qualify for federal loans and work-study.

Overall, this is a strong bill, much of which we like. On behalf of the higher education community, I wrote to the Senate yesterday to express our appreciation for the hard work and dedication that have gone into harmonizing the broad range of concerns incorporated in the measure, and to suggest several changes to certain higher education-related provisions as it moves forward.

The pace is slow, but Senate leaders want to finish work on the immigration bill by the July 4th recess, which begins next Friday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has threatened to file a cloture motion early next week to end debate within a short period of time.

Lastly this week, I wanted to alert you to a new initiative that will be rolled out on Monday, June 24: the Student Achievement Measure Project, a collaborative effort by six higher education associations to enhance transparency and provide the public with a more comprehensive measure of college student progress and completion.

The Student Achievement Measure (SAM) tracks student movement across postsecondary institutions to provide a more complete picture of undergraduate student progress and completion within the higher education system. SAM is an alternative to the federal graduation rate, which is limited to tracking the completion of first-time, full-time students at one institution.

This Monday, the project begins the college and university sign-up phase. Once the most recent data set becomes available in the fall, participating colleges and universities will begin to post their individual student achievement measures on the project website.

The SAM Project is a joint initiative of the American Association of Community Colleges, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, ACE, the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE