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

Workforce Investment Act Nears Passage

May 19-23, 2014 ~ Vol. 15, No. 17

  • Workforce Investment Act Nears Passage
  • Senate Tables Patent Troll Legislation
  • Senate HELP Committee Holds Hearing on Veterans Education
  • IN BRIEF: Obama Administration’s Draft College Ratings Plan Delayed

As we head into the long Memorial Day weekend and the start of summer, I have news this week on two major pieces of legislation we’ve been watching. First, Congress has reached agreement on a bill to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), the law that governs federal job-training programs.

The compromise bill, which is expected to reach the Senate floor in the coming weeks, is especially important for community colleges. It 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.

If the bill clears both chambers of Congress, as expected, it would be the first time that Congress has renewed the WIA, which was initially signed into law in 1998. The measure was due to be reauthorized in 2003, but periodic efforts over the years to renew it have never gotten through the Senate.

Second, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced Wednesday that his committee would not hold a markup on so-called patent troll legislation (S. 1720) this week as had been planned, and that he was removing the measure from its agenda because there was “not sufficient support behind any comprehensive deal” on the issue.

The group of six higher education associations that have been working together on patent reform, including ACE, released a statement applauding the senator for delaying the markup. We had been concerned that the latest language shared in advance of the potential markup would have overly burdened the legitimate enforcement of patent rights.

Sen. Leahy said that if the competing parties working on this measure could agree on a proposal, he would bring it immediately before the committee. For more on congressional efforts to deal with this problem, see ACE General Counsel Ada Meloy’s recent blog post, Patent Troll Legislation Could Hinder University Research and Innovation.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee looked at “Access and Supports for Servicemembers and Veterans in Higher Education” in a hearing yesterday, following on the heels of a similar hearing by a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee last week.

Among the higher education witnesses were David Carlson, coordinator of student veteran services for the University of Vermont, and Kimrey Rhinehardt, vice president of federal relations for the University of North Carolina (UNC), Chapel Hill, who reinforced many of the points UNC System President Tom Ross made last week in the House hearing. She pointed out that UNC’s veterans support programs and policies came about after careful study and review of best practices—most of which came from the ACE Toolkit for Veteran Friendly Institutions. Although more than 94 campuses now have VetsSuccess centers, there is still a strong need to increase the support system for these students.

Because the hearing was also a part of the preparations to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA), much of the discussion was focused on how to improve financial assistance for veterans’ education, and on issues of accountability. The Post-9/11 GI Bill has been an incredibly successful program since enacted in 2008, assisting more than 1 million veterans with some $40 billion for postsecondary education. However, as Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) pointed out, there is still a need for financial aid beyond these benefits. She is working on a bill that would modify the financial aid formula to help veterans and other students leave school with less debt. It was one of several pieces of legislation mentioned at the hearing that could possibly be included in a future HEA reauthorization bill.

To view a webcast and read witness testimony, see the committee’s website.

IN BRIEF

The Education Department had planned to release its college ratings plan this spring, but officials at the agency are now saying to expect a draft by fall and a final plan before the 2015-16 school year. Deputy Under Secretary Jamie Studley wrote a blog post this week explaining the current state of the process, which she discussed this week at the Education Writers Association conference in Nashville.

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE