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

Federal Government Shuts Down; Department of Education Releases Plan for Duration

September 30-October 4, 2013 ~ Vol. 14, No. 31

  • Federal Government Shuts Down; ED Releases Plan for Duration
  • ED, DOJ Release Guidance on Using Race to Achieve Diversity on Campuses
  • ACE, Higher Education Groups Submit Comments on Tuition Assistance MOU
  • ACA 101 Helps Campuses Educate Students About New Health Insurance Marketplaces​

We are nearing the end of the first week of the federal government shutdown, and as of this writing late Thursday, no deal is in sight. While this four-day shuttering of government services is still relatively brief, we are beginning to see the impact in isolated but important areas of higher education. The short-term consequences for students and campuses should still be limited, but if the shutdown goes on for a long time the implications are unknown. 

As you might have seen if you’ve tried to visit the Education Department’s (ED) website or its research database—the Integrated Posts​econdary Education Data System—access to many of the government’s online portals is now limited or completely cut off. Research and new grant applications have been put on hold at the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, classes and other activities at service academies have been interrupted, and the Library of Congress and National Archives areclosed

If the days stretch into weeks and the government remains shut down, processing new applications for federal student financial aid will be delayed. Federal oversight of campuses will lapse—in fact, with more than 90 percent of ED’s staff on furlough, the media is reporting that Title IX investigations on campuses have already stalled

More details can be found in ED’s contingency plan document released last Friday. The department’s Federal Student Aid office also has provided more detailed technical guidance for financial aid professionals on the impact of the shutdown.

Meanwhile, just before the shutdown, the departments of Education (ED) and Justice (DOJ) released a new Q&A guidance that provides colleges and universities with information about the recent Supreme Court ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin and outlines the Obama administration’s position on the use of race as one way of achieving diversity on college campuses.

The guidance explains that colleges and universities can pursue that interest in their admissions programs if they do so in lawful ways; that is, if race is considered as one of several factors and as long as race-neutral alternatives would not sufficiently achieve an institution’s diversity goals.

The document was released at a Sept. 27 panel discussion at DOJ, “Creating and Supporting Diversity in Higher Education,” which was moderated by ACE General Counsel Ada Meloy. Participating in the discussion were Catherine E. Lhamon, ED assistant secretary for civil rights; Jocelyn Samuels, DOJ’s acting assistant attorney general for civil rights; Martha Kanter, ED’s under secretary of education; and Philip Rosenfelt, ED’s general counsel. Nancy Cantor, chancellor of Syracuse University (NY), and Marvin Krislov, president of Oberlin College (OH), also joined the panel.

In 2011, the departments issued Guidance on the Voluntary Use of Race to Achieve Diversity in Postsecondary Education and the relatedGuidance on the Voluntary Use of Race to Achieve Diversity and Avoid Racial Isolation in Elementary and Secondary Schools. Both guidance documents remain in effect after the Fisher decision.

ACE, the National Association of College and University Business Officers, and a group of nine other higher education associations submitted comments Sept. 30 on the Department of Defense’s (DoD) proposed rule for its Tuition Assistance (TA) program memorandum of understanding (MOU). 

Once finalized, higher education institutions will need to sign the MOU to participate in the TA program, which last year provided educational benefits to more than 286,000 service members pursuing a postsecondary education.

The comments reiterate our strong belief in the fundamental tenets of the Obama administration’s April 2012 “Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service Members, Veterans, Spouses and Other Family Members,” which serve as a basis for the changes to the MOU. We also share DoD’s goal of ensuring that service members have the information, support and protections they need to receive a quality postsecondary education, as well as maintaining proper oversight of TA dollars. At the same time, we are concerned that some of the MOU’s provisions may need clarification or modification to ensure that institutions can continue to participate in the TA program. 

DoD is expected to release the final MOU in the coming months, along with a timeline for institutions to sign. 

With open enrollment in the new health insurance marketplace beginning this week, the Obama administration has issued a toolkit to help colleges and universities inform students about the marketplaces and other aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Under the terms of the ACA, students can access a range of new, low-cost health insurance options, including the ability to join a parent’s plan until age 26; expanded Medicaid eligibility in some states; tax credits to help pay for health insurance; improved student health insurance plans; and catastrophic plans that provide emergency coverage at a lower upfront cost. Some of these options have been in place since the law was enacted, while others commence in January when the new insurance marketplaces, known as exchanges, go into effect. Open enrollment began on Oct. 1 and will run through March 31, 2014. 

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE