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

President to President, September 10-14, 2012

Vol. 13, No. 28

  • Congress Returns to Consider Continuing Resolution 
  • House Committee Debates Unionization of Graduate Students 
  • Congress Moves Bills to Help Veterans, Service Members 
  • Senate Committee Tackles State Support for Higher Education
  • IN BRIEF: ACE Awards Demonstration Grants to Adult Education Innovators

Congress returned from its end-of-summer recess for what is expected to be a very short session before members return home to campaign for the November elections. 

We do not expect much will be accomplished this fall, but one pressing matter on the agenda of the House and Senate is approval of a temporary spending bill called a continuing resolution (CR). The measure would fund the federal government until FY 2013 spending bills can be acted upon after the election.

The CR, which the House passed last night and the Senate is expected to take up next week, retains the spending levels approved in last year's Budget Control Act through March 2013. Passage of the CR, would do nothing to address two other looming issues—expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and sequestration, a series of automatic spending cuts slated to go into effect Jan. 1. Congress will not take up either of these issues until the lame-duck session after the election. 

Two House Education and the Workforce subcommittees held a joint hearing Wednesday on the unionization of graduate students at private universities. This issue has received increased attention since the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) this summer called for briefs on whether or not New York University (NYU) graduate students should be permitted to unionize. 

You may recall that ACE submitted a brief in support of NYU's position that granting the students' petition would contravene decades of well-reasoned and settled NLRB precedent and policy. Such a decision could have an adverse impact on how private universities address significant issues in graduate student education, including financial aid, degree requirements and teaching responsibilities, and would intrude upon the relationship between university professors and their students. The NLRB has also recently requested briefs in cases about faculty unionization. 

The discussion among lawmakers at Wednesday's hearing hewed closely to party lines, with Republicans arguing against unionization while Democrats argued in favor. 

Congress moved forward this week with legislation designed to provide additional consumer information and protections for veterans using G.I. Bill education benefits.

On Tuesday, the House passed the Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans Act (H.R. 4057). The measure directs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to develop a comprehensive policy to improve outreach and transparency for veterans and service members by providing key consumer information. On Wednesday, the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee cleared a related bill, the G.I. Bill Consumer Awareness Act (S. 2241), that has a similar goal of providing more consumer information to veterans to help them make informed decisions about how to best use their G.I. Bill benefits.

ACE and other higher education associations sent letters to the House and Senate this week expressing our views on the legislation. While we strongly support efforts to provide veterans with accurate information and to protect them from fraudulent and unduly aggressive recruiting practices occurring at a subset of institutions, there are concerns that some provisions may undercut the bills' larger goals.

Each bill appears to require institutions to provide a significant amount of data that colleges and universities do not currently collect. For example, the Senate bill requires institutions to provide information by student major. In the House measure, institutions would be required to submit "enrollment rates," a term which is not adequately defined. These and other requirements would be implemented by the VA and, most likely, would be totally uncoordinated with current Department of Education information requirements.

With Congress expected to leave Washington shortly, the prospects for both bills are unclear, though the full Senate may vote on its version before the election recess.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee heard testimony Thursday on the issue of state support for higher education during a hearing titled "Improving College Affordability: A View from the States." The hearing focused on approaches for dealing with decreasing state investment in higher education, while also trying to improve educational outcomes. 

The witnesses were Muriel A. Howard, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities; David A. Longanecker, president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education; John Morgan, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents; and Camille Preus, commissioner of the Oregon Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development.

In testimony submitted for the record, Dr. Howard said, "Per-student state investment in higher education has deteriorated over the past 25 years. Numerous studies have highlighted this trend and have correctly linked it as the single largest reason for the rise in tuition at public four-year institutions."

In a statement issued after the hearing, Ranking Member Mike Enzi (R-WY) emphasized the importance of focusing on state funding issues in addition to looking for ways that the federal government can further support college students.

A webcast of the hearing, along with copies of witness testimony, is available on the Senate HELP Committee website​

IN BRIEF

ACE has awarded grants to six higher education institutions for innovative adult education demonstration projects. The grants are part of ACE's multipronged national initiative to ensure more adults obtain college degrees. The recipients are: the School of Continuing and Professional Studies at the University of Virginia; Eastern Connecticut State University; Pellissippi State Community College (TN); Campbellsville University (KY); University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College (OH); and Southern Illinois University Carbondale. For more information on the projects, see this fact sheet.

These funds are part of a larger Kresge Foundation grant of $600,000 to support ACE's national adult education agenda. ACE also is devoting additional funding from the Ford Foundation, Lumina Foundation and Hearst Foundation to its overall adult education initiative and will spend a total of about $1 million to propel action on a national scale.

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE