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

Congress Returns to Full Agenda: Syria, Fiscal Issues to Dominate in September

Sept. 9-13, 2013 ~ Vol. 14, No. 28

  • Congress Returns; Syria, Fiscal Issues Dominate Agenda
  • Higher Ed Groups Ask Supreme Court to Strike Down Michigan Ban on Considering Race in College Admissions
  • Negotiators Begin Work on New Gainful Employment Rules
  • House Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Veterans and Higher Education
  • IN BRIEF: Register Now for ACE’s 96th Annual Meeting; White House Calls on Health Insurance Set for Today and Monday; Arnold Mitchem Retiring from COE; Colorado State Video on Tuition

Congress returned to Capitol Hill this week to a full agenda, dominated by the question of Syria and the pending fights over the FY 2014 budget and debt ceiling. While several higher education bills are theoretically on tap, chances are slim they’ll be taken up before the end of the year. 

Some key dates are approaching: As Congress has approved no appropriations bills for FY 2014, the government's spending authority is set to run out Sept. 30. House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers (R-KY) on Tuesday introduced his panel’s FY 2014 continuing resolution (CR), a stopgap bill to fund the government from Oct. 1 through Dec. 15. However, because Rogers’ plan did not defund the Affordable Care Act, it was not acceptable to conservative House Republicans and the vote scheduled for this week was cancelled. It is not clear what happens next.

Even if a continuing resolution is adopted, the Treasury loses its borrowing authority in mid-October when the debt ceiling is reached. Congressional Republicans will likely demand some spending concessions from the administration as a price for approving an increase in the debt ceiling. The administration has said it will not accept any such conditions. To add further urgency to the calendar, the House is scheduled to recess during the last week of September, leaving only six legislative days before the end of the fiscal year.

Among the higher education issues waiting in the wings:

Immigration Reform: The Senate approved a comprehensive immigration reform bill in June, and is now waiting for the House to act. The bill has several provisions that are important to students and campuses, including a version of the long-awaited DREAM Act, which provides a path to citizenship for young people brought illegally to the United States as children. However, the House is unlikely to take any action this fall, which may well kill the bill’s chances until 2015.

Higher Education Act (HEA) Reauthorization: Last reauthorized in 2008, the HEA expires at the end of 2013. The next bill is likely once again to evolve slowly over months, or conceivably over years. (See recommendations for the reauthorization we submitted to the House Education and the Workforce Committee last month.)

Obama Administration’s Higher Education Proposals: As you know, President Obama last month introduced a wide-ranging initiative on college affordability. As I wrote to you last week, much of the package, including the proposal to tie student aid funding to the ratings system, cannot be done without new congressional action. Given the legislative stalemate that prevails on Capitol Hill and the total absence of information about how such a plan would work, it will be difficult for the Education Department to get that authority in the near future.

ACE and 48 other associations submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court Aug. 31 in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, urging justices to strike down the state of Michigan’s ban on the consideration of race and ethnicity in admissions decisions.

The case follows closely on the heels of Fisher v. the University of Texas at Austin (UT), which the Supreme Court decided in June. The justices agreed with the higher education community in Fisher that diversity on college campuses offers unique educational benefits to students and is a compelling government interest, and ordered lower courts to reexamine the challenge to UT’s admissions process.

In the Schuette case, a coalition of groups has challenged the Michigan ban, which voters approved in 2006 as an amendment to the state constitution. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit struck down the ban last year, ruling that it violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, which mandates that states must apply their laws equally to all individuals and groups of people. We believe the appeals court correctly decided that the ban unconstitutionally distorts the political process to the disadvantage of racial and ethnic minorities, and therefore the Supreme Court should affirm the decision.

Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action is scheduled for oral arguments Oct. 15.

The Education Department (ED) began its new round of negotiated rulemaking on gainful employment regulations this week. 

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 to pursue further appeals, deciding instead to craft a new set of rules in this area.

ED last week introduced draft language for negotiators to consider. The draft regulations would affect more programs but are also somewhat simplified, with fewer rules. This week’s session concluded with the formation of six working groups that will submit counterproposals to the department by the end of the month.

The meetings are scheduled to continue next month. If negotiators cannot reach a consensus on the rules, ED can still propose its own final version.

For more details on the discussions, see Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training held a hearing Wednesday to examine the steps higher education institutions are taking to better support service members and veterans who are working to earn a postsecondary degree or obtain job training skills. 

During her opening remarks, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) highlighted the University of North Carolina’s (UNC) work to build a network of veteran services and programs known as the UNC Partnership for National Security, which was explained in detail by Kimrey Rhinehardt, UNC’s vice president for federal and military affairs. Dr. Russell Kitchner, American Public University System’s vice president for regulatory and governmental relations, described efforts to expand technology and implement “a more meaningful formula for calculating its military and veteran student graduation rate,” while Saint Leo University (FL) President Arthur Kirk discussed the importance of providing veterans and service members with adequate emotional and social assistance.

To read witness testimony or watch an archived webcast of the hearing, see the committee’s website.

IN BRIEF

Please make plans now to join us in San Diego next March 8-11 for ACE’s 96th Annual Meeting: Seizing Opportunity. Confirmed speakers so far include Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, who will deliver the Robert H. Atwell lecture at the opening plenary session Sunday, March 9; and Paula Kerger, president and CEO of PBS, who will give the keynote address at the ACE Women’s Leadership Dinner Saturday, March 8. For more information and to register, click here.

The White House and the Department of Health and Human Services will offer two one-hour conference calls this afternoon and Monday to give campus administrators a better understanding of the new health insurance marketplace and how they can help inform students, staff and community members. These calls are designed to educate campuses about the choices and benefits, provide examples of ways campuses can educate and engage others, and offer callers the opportunity to ask questions. To participate in one of these calls, please RSVP using the following links: Friday, Sept. 13 at 1:00 p.m. EDT and Monday, Sept. 16 at 3:00 p.m. EDT.

Please join me in congratulating Dr. Arnold L. Mitchem, longtime president of the Council for Opportunity in Education, who will soon be retiring after many years of service and advocacy to advance the cause of equal opportunity in higher education. Dr. Mitchem’s work has helped countless low-income, first-generation students, as well as individuals with disabilities, adult learners, veterans and others, gain access to postsecondary education.

Lastly this week, I want to call to your attention a video produced by Colorado State University that creatively answers the question “Where Do My Tuition Dollars Go?” You can watch the video on YouTube.

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE