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

House, Senate Hold Hearings on Financial Aid

November 11-15, 2013 ~ Vol. 14, No. 37

  • House, Senate Hold Hearings on Financial Aid
  • House Hearing Examines Affordable Care Act’s Impact on Education
  • Fisher v. UT Diversity in Admissions Case Back at Appeals Court
  • Education Department Releases New Gainful Employment Proposals
  • Apply Now for ACE Leadership Programs
  • IN BRIEF: Higher Education Groups Send Statement on Innovation Act to House Judiciary Committee

It’s been another active week on Capitol Hill, as both the House and Senate held the latest in a series of hearings in preparation for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). Meanwhile, the House continued looking at the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, including a panel that focused on the impact on education of the health care law’s rollout. In addition, the House-Senate Budget Conference Committee met for the second time to discuss FY 2014 spending. The conference committee has a Dec. 13 deadline to return a spending plan to both chambers, an outcome of the October deal to reopen the federal government, but there has been no progress so far.

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions​ hearings looked at options for simplifying federal financial aid programs and the importance of doing so to expand access to higher education. The “one grant, one loan, one tax credit” slogan surfaced at both hearings, as there was bipartisan agreement that the 68-page Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is so complex and burdensome that it is a hindrance rather than a help to students and families—an ongoing discussion.

Testifying at both hearings was Kristin Conklin, founding partner of HCM Strategists, who discussed a report issued in January by a panel of college presidents and other higher education leaders offering recommendations to simplify federal financial aid. Ms. Conklin, higher education economist Sandy Baum, and Nate Johnson, a consultant at Postsecondary Analytics, also wrote an op-ed in Wednesday's New York Times that calls for changing the Pell Grant to encourage students to take 15 credit hours, rather than the current 12 credit hours Pell classifies as full-time, to help them graduate in four years.

Last reauthorized in 2008 after five years of temporary extensions, renewing HEA is likely once again to evolve slowly over months, or conceivably over years. See our recommendations for reauthorization we submitted to the House Education and the Workforce Committee in August.

Meanwhile on Thursday, while much of Washington was embroiled in the controversy over the general rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the House Education and the Workforce Committee looked at the specific issue of the new law’s effect on colleges, universities and K-12 education.

A major focus of the hearing concerned the impact of the ACA on adjunct faculty and student employees, and the need for final regulatory guidance to ensure institutions can comply with the ACA’s employer mandate. Testifying at the hearing were Gregory L. Needles, a partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius; Mark D. Benigni, superintendent of Meriden Public Schools in Meriden, CT; Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority; and Thomas Jandris, dean of the College of Graduate and Innovative Programs at Concordia University Chicago. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments​ Wednesday in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (UT), following the Supreme Court’s decision in June that sent the case back to the lower court with instructions to apply a greater degree of scrutiny to UT’s race-conscious admissions program.

In Fisher, the Supreme Court reaffirmed its prior decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, the 2003 University of Michigan admissions case, that diversity on college campuses offers unique educational benefits to students and is a compelling government interest. At this stage of the case, the Court of Appeals has been asked to look at a particular constitutional issue—whether the university’s use of race in admissions is narrowly tailored to achieve its diversity goals. 

We submitted an amicus brief​ in support of UT earlier this month, which was endorsed by 41 other higher education groups. Support for UT​ over the course of this case also has come from more than 100 colleges and universities, as well as business groups, former military leaders, religious organizations, labor unions and civil rights advocates.

The Department of Education (ED) last Friday released 73 pages of draft language for the new gainful employment regulations it will continue negotiating next week. Discussions over the rules began in September, but the second round of talks was delayed during the government shutdown in October. 

As you might remember, a federal judge previously blocked parts of the gainful employment rule proposed in 2011, which would have pulled federal student aid from career education programs whose graduates had high debt-to-income ratios or low loan repayment rates. ED's appeal of the ruling was denied in March and the department declined further appeals, deciding instead to craft a new set of rules in this area.

The new draft apparently is substantially stricter than what ED proposed in September and reportedly also goes further than proposed and final rules from 2011. If a consensus is not reached this time around, and it will not be, ED will move forward with its favored approach to the rules and can choose to accept or ignore guidance from the committee.

Please let those on your campus interested in the ACE Fellows Program know that the application deadline for the 2014-15 class has been extended until Jan. 2.

Potential applicants can watch a recent informational webinar about the ACE Fellows Program or can click here to apply now​. For additional information about the Program or to speak to a staff person, please call 202-939-9420 or email fellows@acenet.edu​. The ACE Fellows Program, created nearly 50 years ago, is the nation’s oldest and most esteemed higher education professional development program. 

There are still opportunities to register for two other upcoming ACE leadership programs: the 82nd National Women’s Leadership Forum, Dec. 4-6 in Alexandria, VA, outside Washington, DC; and the ACE Leadership Academy for Department Chairs, Jan. 9-10 in Miami.

IN BRIEF 

We joined our colleague associations working on patent reform to send a statement Nov. 8 to the House Judiciary Committee on the Innovation Act (H.R. 3309), which is designed to reduce abusive patent litigation and the negative impact that has on the U.S. patent system. Although we support the goal of the bill and support the intent of many of its provisions—including fee shifting, heightened pleading standards, increased transparency of patent ownership and limitations on discovery—the overly broad scope of the bill as written could cause problems for universities. To read the statement, click here​

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE ​