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

ACE, Higher Education Groups Comment on Alexander HEA Policy Papers

April 27-May 1, 2015 ~ Vol. 16, No. 14

  • ACE, Higher Education Groups Comment on Alexander HEA Policy Papers; House Subcommittee Holds HEA Hearing on Access and Completion
  • ACE Releases Memo on ED’s Title IX Guidance
  • House, Senate Reach Agreement on FY 2016 Budget Resolution
  • Senate Judiciary Committee Introduces PATENT Act

Work continued this week on preparations for Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization, with comments by higher education organizations submitted in response to Sen. Lamar Alexander’s (R-TN) HEA policy papers and a House hearing on access and completion for low-income students. 

Alexander, as chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, released three policy papers March 23 outlining ideas that could find their way into an eventual HEA reauthorization bill.

The papers focus on: 1) Risk-sharing or “skin-in-the-game” proposals; 2) accreditation; and 3) federal government data collection and transparency. They offer the most expansive look yet at some of the policy ideas being considered for the HEA, which Alexander has said he wants the full Senate to consider by the end of 2015.

This week, we submitted comments on the risk-sharing and accreditation policy papers. We will be sending comments on the policy paper on data collection in the coming days.

The proposals outlined in the paper on risk-sharing—the idea that colleges should have something at risk to participate in federal aid programs—are based on the theory that institutions will improve outcomes for their students if they have some “skin-in-the-game.” In our comments, we pointed out that institutions have significant limitations in their authority to curb over-borrowing, as the right to borrow federal dollars is an entitlement given to students. We also noted that the federal financial aid system, which was created to ensure students have equal access to higher education, is predicated on the idea that providing opportunity is a more valuable policy goal than limiting risk.

Our comments on the accreditation paper acknowledged that while no system is perfect and there is room for improvement, the current accreditation system works well in our diverse and decentralized higher education community to ensure academic quality and independence. Most importantly, we do not want to see accreditation federalized or for authority over academic quality to be handed over to the states. The comments were signed by a number of higher education associations and all of the regional accreditors. 

Meanwhile in the House, the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training yesterday held a hearing on “Improving College Access and Completion for Low-Income and First-Generation Students,” part of that chamber’s HEA reauthorization preparations. For more information and a full webcast of the hearing, see the Education and the Workforce Committee website. This was the committee’s second reauthorization hearing.

As I mentioned last week, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has released a guidance package focused on campus Title IX coordinators. We have prepared an issue brief to help you better understand the guidance and how it impacts your staff. 

Although the new document largely restates previous OCR guidance, it also clarifies these prior documents and recommends certain practices. The guidance package also highlights OCR’s view that Title IX coordinators are key to an institution’s Title IX compliance efforts. Our brief summarizes aspects of the new guidance and flags selected points that OCR has not previously conveyed.

The House and Senate budget committees on Wednesday unveiled their joint FY 2016 budget resolution (H. Con. Res. 27), which resolves the difference between the two resolutions passed last month. The House is expected to vote on the plan today, with the Senate following next week. 

The budget resolution would cut more than $5 trillion in spending from nearly all parts of the federal government over the next decade and contains no tax hikes. It retains a ceiling on spending set up by the passage of sequestration in 2011, but would increase spending for the Department of Defense.

It is important to remember that the budget resolution is non-binding and does not require a presidential signature. Its significance is best understood as an indication of preferred policy choices. If the provisions outlined in this resolution were ever to be fully enacted (i.e., signed into law by the president)—which is unlikely—it would be bad news for higher education, like many other federal programs and areas, because it would cut the overall pool of funds for student aid, scientific research and institutional support by $496 billion over ten years. More specifically, it would cut $145.6 billion from Pell Grants and student loans. While the resolution does contain reconciliation instructions (a process that allows for expedited legislation), these are directed only toward elimination of the Affordable Care Act and does not change federal student loans as many had expected.

A bipartisan group of Senate Judiciary Committee members introduced their long-awaited patent reform bill on Wednesday. 

On initial read, the Protecting American Talent and Entrepreneurship (PATENT) Act appears to take a much more balanced approach than the House patent bill (H.R. 9) in addressing abusive litigation practices of “patent trolls” while protecting the integrity of our patent system.

ACE joined several other associations, led by the Association of American Universities, in issuing a statement on the Senate bill thanking the sponsors for listening to our concerns, while also alerting them that we will have further suggestions as the legislative process moves forward.

The bill’s sponsors are Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and committee members John Cornyn (R-TX), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Mike Lee (R-UT), Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE