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

ACE, Higher Education Associations Send Letter to Congressional Budget Committee

October 28-November 1, 2013 ~ Vol. 14, No. 35

  • Higher Education Associations Urge Budget Committee to Support Research and Education, Eliminate Sequestration
  • Fisher v. UT Admissions Case Returns to Lower Court; ACE Submits Brief
  • ED Schedules Hearings on President’s Plan to Rate Colleges
  • Senate HELP Committee Holds Innovation Hearing​

​It was a busy week in Washington, with much to report on the higher education front. To begin, lawmakers opened formal negotiations over the federal budget Wednesday. We are sending a letter to the Hill today asking House and Senate budget committee members to consider eliminating the FY 2014 sequestration spending reductions and prioritize investments in higher education and research in any plan they might draft. 

The conference committee is responsible for returning a spending plan to both chambers by Dec. 13, an outcome of the budget deal reached in October to reopen the federal government. There will be no immediate fallout if they end in stalemate. However, if no progress is made before the continuing resolution (a short-term spending bill) runs out Jan. 15, Congress will be right back where it started, with a Feb. 7 debt ceiling deadline looming.

As you know, sequestration—the across-the-board federal spending cuts that began March 1—has already negatively impacted many of the programs on which the American economy depends, including scientific research, student aid and workforce training. If additional cuts are layered on top of those already in place, the strong and sustained economic growth needed to move the country forward will not be possible. 

The Student Aid Alliance, which I co-chair with David Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, also sent a letter this week to the budget committees, urging them to repeal sequestration and provide the highest possible funding levels for non-defense discretionary spending in the FY 2014 budget agreement. 

ACE and a group of higher education associations yesterday submitted another brief in the ongoing diversity in admissions case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (UT), which will be heard Nov. 13 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. 

As you’ll remember, the U.S. Supreme Court in June remanded the case back to the 5th Circuit. The court’s 7-1 decision said that the lower court failed to apply the correct standard of “strict scrutiny,” the most rigorous type of judicial review, when it ruled for UT in 2011.

Our brief focuses on a single key argument: educators’ determination of educational goals merits judicial respect. The Supreme Court has affirmed that the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body are a compelling interest that can justify the narrowly tailored use of race in admissions. However, each institution defines diversity in its own way, consistent with its mission, and in doing so, makes an educational judgment that merits a degree of deference by the court.

The plaintiff in Fisher suggests that the university’s own judgment on what diversity means for that campus must be supplanted by a rigid numerical test. However, we believe institutions themselves are in the best position to decide what mix of students best fits their educational goals. Our brief also notes that strict scrutiny distinguishes ends from means. The court must scrutinize the meansused, but the end is attaining diversity’s benefits, which involves academic judgment and merits a degree of deference. 

The Department of Education (ED) announced this week that it will host four public forums at colleges and universities across the country to discuss President Obama’s proposal to create a college rating system, part of the White House’s college cost initiative

The forums, which are free and open to the public, will be held at California State University-Dominguez Hills, Nov. 6; George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, Nov. 13; the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Nov. 15; and Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Nov. 21. Specific details will provided as the dates approach and posted at Individuals who wish to present comments or feedback should email at least three days before the event with the subject “Open Forum Registration.” ED also will be releasing a Request for Information to ask data experts and researchers to comment on methods for creating such a ratings system. 

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) heard testimony yesterday from four university presidents on “Attaining a Quality Degree: Innovations to Improve Student Success.”

The hearing was the second HELP panel held to prepare for Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization. (Click here to see our recommendations on the HEA.) My thanks to all the higher education leaders who told the stories of the groundbreaking work their institutions are doing to help improve student learning and college completion, as well as to ensure their students are earning a truly meaningful credential. Testifying at the hearing were William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland; R. Scott Ralls, president of the North Carolina Community College System; Timothy L. Hall, president of Austin Peay State University (TN); Paul J. LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University; and Richard Kazis, senior vice president of Jobs for the Future in Boston, MA. 

To read their remarks and view a webcast of the hearing, see the committee’s website

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE​​