House Committee Approves Substantial Increases for Higher Education Programs, Student Aid in Reconciliation Bill
September 13, 2021

​​​​​Other committees work on research funding, pathway to​ citizenship for Dreamers

On Friday, the House Committee on Education and Labor voted 28-22 along party lines to advance its portion of the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package, proposing to invest roughly $111 billion in higher education programs and federal student aid. 

As ACE President Ted Mitchell said in a statement last week on the release of the draft text, the legislation represents a major step toward providing greater access to an affordable, high-quality college education for millions of low- and middle-income students. ACE and 33 other higher education organizations sent a letter to the committee in advance of the vote expressing the community's views on the bill and suggestions for revision as it moves through the process.

The four main higher education proposals in the measure are a $500 increase for Pell Grants for 2021-22—which would bring the maximum award to $6,995—and for each award year through 2029-30; a federal-state partnership to provide free community college tuition and subsidize two years of tuition at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), and other minority serving institutions (MSIs); $9 billion to help states and institutions improve college retention and completion; and an additional $3.45 billion for HBCUs and other MSIs.

The $3.45 billion would provide expanded institutional support and a $2 billion competitive grant program for building research infrastructure. As The Washington Post reported Friday, HBCU leaders have asked Congress to increase this support to get it closer to what was in the Biden administration's original infrastructure plan released in the spring, the American Jobs Plan. The president had proposed a total of $55 billion for HBCUs and MSIs to upgrade research infrastructure and create up to 200 research incubators to bolster STEM education.

On Pell Grants, though larger than the small grant increases passed in recent years through the annual appropriations process, the $500 boost for award year 2022-23 falls far short of the $1,475 increase included in administration's second infrastructure proposal—the American Families Plan—and the commitment to doubling Pell expressed by the president on the campaign trail and since taking office. (To learn more about the importance of doubling the maximum Pell Grant and an easy-to-use tool to write members of Congress, check out the higher education community's #DoublePell website.)

The bill also includes language that would make current Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipients eligible for federal student aid. ACE and a number other associations sent a letter last month to congressional leadership again urging them to act on this important issue, and provide certainty for Dreamers.    

The next step in the process for completing work on this portion of the package is the House Budget Committee followed by a vote on the House floor, then to the Senate.

Support for Research

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee also approved its reconciliation bill last week, which includes a range of provisions that will impact research universities.

The $45.5 billion measure includes $3.43 billion for the National Science Foundation: $1 billion for “academic research facilities modernization" (with $300 million of that total directed to HBCUs, Hispanic Serving Institutions, Tribal colleges, and other MSIs), and $7.55 billion for “new and existing research awards, scholarships, and fellowships" across the STEM fields.

It also includes funding for infrastructure at the Department of Energy National Labs, climate change research and development at the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA, as well as support for programs at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Support for Dreamers

In other efforts to support Dreamers, the House Judiciary Committee's portion of the reconciliation bill would provide a pathway to citizenship for several groups of undocumented immigrants, including Dreamers who arrived in the United States before the age of 18 and before Jan. 1, 2021. Also included are individuals with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), and essential workers as defined by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) during COVID-19.

On Friday, Democrats presented the case to the Senate parliamentarian that they should be allowed to include language that would extend a path to citizenship to these individuals. A final decision could come as soon as this week.

The adjustment to status would require supplemental fees. Dreamers would have to pay a $1,500 supplemental fee in addition to any administrative processing fees, and some visa holders—such as EB-5 recipients—would have to pay up to $50,000.

The legislation also would recapture unused green cards, which would help address the current backlog of visas.​​