dotEDU Live: Is Higher Education Act Reauthorization Finally Happening?


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired February 22, 2024

ACE’s Emmanual Guillory, senior director of government relations, joins hosts Jon Fansmith and Sarah Spreitzer to talk about the College Cost Reduction Act—the new Higher Education Act reauthorization bill from House Republicans—as well as the status of funding the federal government for FY 2024 and the latest on the Department of Education’s problematic FAFSA rollout.

Here are some of the links and references from this week’s show:

Senate Republicans Officially Block Foreign Aid Bill With Border Changes
Politico | Feb. 7, 2024

House Committee Advances GOP Plan to Overhaul Higher Ed
Inside Higher Ed | Feb. 1, 2024

Summary: The College Cost Reduction Act
American Council on Education | Jan. 19, 2024

College Cost Transparency Initiative

Millions of College Students in Limbo After Aid Application Information Is Delayed Until March
NBC News | Jan. 30, 2024

Some Colleges Are Pivoting as FAFSA Delays Drag On
The New York Times (sub. req.) | Feb. 8, 2024

Extending Enrollment and Financial Aid Deadlines
American Council on Education

Negotiated Rulemaking for Higher Education 2023-2024
U.S. Department of Education


 Read this episode's transcript

Jon Fansmith: Hello, and welcome to the February edition of dotEDU Live. We see that people are beginning to filter into the room, so, as usual, we’ll give a minute or so, so people can get in and get situated.

And while they are coming in, I’ll remind everyone that you can submit questions during the session using the chat function. And, as always, we’ll try to get to as many as we can. We always have really great questions from all of you, and I think really helps inform the discussion we’ll be having. So be sure to send those in. The earlier you can send them, the more likely we are to be able to get to them. So thanks.

We’ll wait just a minute and then we’ll kick it off. We have a special guest who’s probably visible to you as we do it. So an exciting episode this month.

We have a lot to cover today too, so think I’ll start by introducing my co-host, Sarah, joining us as always. How are you doing, Sarah?

Sarah Spreitzer: I’m doing great. Happy to be here after the long weekend with all our higher education friends.

Jon Fansmith: And as I mentioned, as everyone watching can see, we are joined by a very special guest, our wonderful colleague, Emmanual Guillory, who works with us here in government relations and national engagement at ACE. Emmanual, this is your second time on dotEDU Live. You’re creeping towards regular territory. How are you doing?

Emmanual Guillory: I’m doing well. I’m doing well. Happy Tuesday to everyone, and glad for those of you that are able to join us.

Jon Fansmith: Thank you, Emmanual. Always good to have you. You mentioned you are doing well, which I think probably means you’re doing better than the appropriations process is doing right now, which I feel has been a running topic of frustration and conversation for us. But for all of the people who have tuned in, can you give us a brief rundown on where things stand in terms of funding the federal government?

Emmanual Guillory: Yes, absolutely. So right now the House and the Senate are in a two-week recess, but we are nearing a March 1st and March 8th deadline. So for this group, we would probably be more concerned about the Labor-Health and Human Services bill because that’s where a lot of the funding for higher ed is housed and the Department of Education, so on and so forth. So that particular deadline is March 8th, so we’re not nearing the March 1st deadline, but we have a lot going on.

Because right now we are still unaware of the negotiations that are happening between the House and the Senate for the subcommittee allocations, which are also known as 302(b)s. What we do know is that House and Senate staff are preconferencing. So basically that just means that they’re talking to one another to try to figure out where can we come to an agreement so when we do put out a bill, it’s something that we’ve already agreed upon, and it can make the process much, much smoother and quicker as it moves through both the House and the Senate, so we can get something done immediately.

So we still have yet to know what those funding levels would be for the Labor-HHS bill, for example, and to know how much funding the Department of Education would get and how that would impact certain programs in the higher ed space, like Federal Work-Study and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant. I use those two programs as examples because those two programs were proposed to be zeroed out on the House side, and then we had a reduction of $10 million for each program on the Senate side. So they’re negotiating those programs to see, “Where do we come to in the middle or what agreement can we reach?” So we’re just anxiously awaiting to find out what it is they would agree upon.

But in the meantime, obviously the president’s budget is supposed to be out March 11th, and depending on, there’s rumors that there could potentially be another extension, another short term CR. It’s rumored right now. And if that is the case, then it’s just going to be a lot of fun as it relates to the president’s budget request because they have to go off numbers somehow some way, and the further we push this out, the more that they will likely use FY 2023 levels, and we could see a situation where the president’s budget request could be less than was proposed by the House because we don’t know what FY 2024 numbers are.

But just always fun in Washington, DC, never a dull moment. And hopefully we’ll see something here soon.

Jon Fansmith: If not, a partial shutdown of the government.

Emmanual Guillory: Right. Hopefully not that.

Sarah Spreitzer: I think in our last podcast, I was still saying that it was going to be a yearlong CR, but I’m going to change that and say it’s going to be a yearlong CR in the form of a series of short-term CRs. I don’t see how they’re going to be able to get this done by the deadlines in March without doing another CR, and they haven’t really resolved any of the problems.

Emmanual Guillory: Yeah, exactly. And for those that may not know what a CR is, it stands for continuing resolution. And basically that just means we’re going to continue to fund the federal government at the same level just until we can figure out new levels of funding and how that may change. So right now it is fiscal year, and thank you Jon Riskind for answering that question. So FY does stand for fiscal year. So right now we’re in fiscal year 2023 funding levels and continuing to operate under such until Congress can make a decision on fiscal year 2024.

Jon Fansmith: And worth noting for folks, we are now five months into fiscal year 24 without having decided how much agencies should be funded in fiscal year 24, so things are going along smoothly as always on the appropriations side.

But Sarah, one thing we do know is dead is any sort of border security compromise that would have been attached to a foreign aid funding bill. And the reason we care about that is directly about the status of Dreamers and DACA recipients. Do you have any update on what’s going on there? I know we had some questions about this.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, not a great update, Jon. We did have a question about the status of DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and Dreamers. And DACA, as this audience knows, was established by President Obama under an executive order, so it’s never been put into statute by Congress, and it has been tested by various court cases. And, in fact, there’s a court case that’s ongoing right now, which we expect will end up with the Supreme Court. So we’ve been hopeful, for decades, that Congress will do something to put into law something to help our Dreamers.

And unfortunately in the recent border discussions, which were being discussed as a way to try and move these appropriations bills, DACA and Dreamers were not even on the table. It was much more about funding for border security, funding for asylum seekers, funding for border activities, those types of things. So, unfortunately, I think Congress is continuing to sit and has not taken any action so far.

We’re still hopeful this year, especially as the case gets closer to the Supreme Court, but nothing in that border security bill. And even the border security bill didn’t make it very far. We saw it advance in the Senate, it was negotiated on a bipartisan way, and then I think Speaker Johnson said, “Nope, we’re not even going to take it up.” So that seems to have fallen by the wayside.

Jon Fansmith: And just quick follow-up, why wasn’t any discussion of DACA or Dreamers part of a overall border security, immigration...? I mean, it’s bipartisanly popular. I guess it always surprises me when that seems like one that could get bipartisan support, and yet it’s often left out of these discussions.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think part of it was what the border security package was trying to address, which was really some members, I think, of the GOP caucus that wanted to put more resources towards border security, and DACA and Dreamer was just not really considered part of that. And, in fact, if you were to establish a new program, I think there were concerns that it would encourage more people at the borders.

Jon Fansmith: Thanks, Sarah. So a few things happening in Congress related to funding of impact to higher education, but some other things, bigger things, that are going on too, in fact relate directly to the theme of this episode, which is is the Higher Education Act reauthorization finally happening? That’s a good question. Is the Higher Education Act reauthorization finally happening, Emmanual? Yes or no?

Emmanual Guillory: Well, unfortunately, I have to report that that looks like that will be a no for this Congress, but there is a version of it that has been proposed that I think it’s worth noting and talking about, and that is the College Cost Reduction Act. The reason why I say it’s a version, even though it’s not a comprehensive reauthorization of the entire bill, it does touch on a number of aspects and gives us an idea of what the Republicans are thinking and how they’re trying to help students and crack down on the cost of college and address the student loan debt issues, and so on and so forth.

So I’d like to start the conversation with, obviously, we are all here for the students. Institutions of higher education exist in order to ensure that students have the opportunity to gain access so they can go and live their American dream and make whatever choices that are best for them. And it’s debatable of what types of institutions a student should go to. But at the end of the day, we have the ability to have a choice and choose what we believe is best for us. And that could be a community college, it could be a four-year public or a four-year private, or it could be just a credential, or whatever the case may be.

But with the College Cost Reduction Act, one thing that the Republicans, they really try to get at is they try to ensure that a student who is attending a postsecondary institution won’t have to take on more debt than what they can reasonably pay back once they enter the labor market, based on the amount of money that they’re making. So this idea and concept was birthed from something called gainful employment, which those conversations began back in 2009.

Jon Fansmith: Which is a regulation, not legislation.

Emmanual Guillory: Yes. Gainful employment is a regulation, which the language is found in the Higher Education Act. But in taking that term in the Higher Education Act, the Obama administration decided, “Hey, when we say ‘gainful employment,’ what do we mean by that? How can we measure that?” And so this whole idea of looking at debt and earnings came about. And so now that this idea has been around for quite some time, we see more members of Congress, more policymakers thinking along the lines of an equation when it comes to value. So the College Cost Reduction Act builds on that and actually tells us that Republicans are beginning to see this way of thinking in value as having some merit and not just coming from Democrats.

So when we look at the College Cost Reduction Act, there are some key things that it does. Obviously it does try to ensure that financial aid award offer letters are similar across the board using similar terminologies. It mandates for a standardized template on the front end, but it does allow institutions to make modifications to that template on the back end. Obviously we have the, or for those of you that don’t know, we have the College Transparency Initiative that we worked with NASFAA and others and took the initiative, no pun intended, but took the initiative to work within our own sector on how can we make the financial aid offers better and more easy to understand for students. And so this bill, the College Cost Reduction Act, puts a lot of the similar themes and language that we have proposed but adds some other guardrails too as well.

In addition to that, this bill tightens up the College Scorecard in ensuring that data that’s available for any and everyone to look at to compare institutions will be able to give them exactly what they need to make better informed decisions. The bill also creates a postsecondary data system. And so Dr. Foxx has extreme privacy concerns as it relates to postsecondary data systems. And this is basically a version that the Republicans believe, and Dr. Foxx believes, is the way to go about ensuring students have access to data to help them make the best informed decisions. And so-

Jon Fansmith: And I was laughing, Emmanual, because I know you know this, but people watching may not. Chairwoman Foxx, chair of the Education and Workforce Committee, has historically been probably the strongest and most adamant opponent of creating a federal student unit record database. So this is an interesting shift. It doesn’t necessarily move off that position, but it’s a different way of approaching the problem, right?

Emmanual Guillory: Yes, absolutely. But some of the bigger things that really gives us pause with this legislation starts with something called the need analysis and how there’s an equation that assesses the need that a student may have when it comes to federal financial aid. And right now, cost of attendance is a part of that overall formula. And so it’s cost of attendance, and then you would subtract what is going to be the student aid index, and then you subtract any other federal assistance that the student may receive. And then after all of those subtractions, the amount that you get is what we would consider the need that the student has for aid.

Well, instead of using overall cost of attendance at an institution, they’re actually proposing to use the median cost of college of the program of study for such student at that institution. And in looking at the median cost of college or median cost of that program, they’re looking at every program with the same six-digit Classification of Instructional Programs code that’s coded to a program across every institution in the United States, and saying, “What’s the median cost there? And then let’s just use that.” And that’s a way that Republicans are thinking to crack down on the cost. So, not to get-

Jon Fansmith: So, Emmanual... Yeah. Layman’s terms, right? Right now, institutions say this is the cost of attendance. It’s almost always uniform for all undergraduate students, graduate students at the master’s level, graduate students at the doctoral level. This bill would say instead of your institution saying, “This is our cost of attendance for our students,” instead, they’d say, “Every person who takes a BA in History, we’re going to look at the cost of attendance across every BA in History program across the country. What’s the median there?” And then for every one of those programs, that becomes their cost of attendance. There’s no institutional control over what the cost of attendance is, right? And it’s now down from broadly across the institution to program-specific. I’m getting that right, right?

Emmanual Guillory: Yes, to program-specific. And the term “cost of attendance” refers to, in this bill it refers to the median cost of college of the program of study. So they’re using those terms interchangeably. So as I use that term, as I continue to explain the bill, I don’t want others who are listening in to assume that I’m talking about what we know of today as cost of attendance overall for the institution. So I want to make that distinction.

So if we talk more about the financial aid piece, something that’s really big is that this bill is proposing a metric that looks at the value-added earnings. And basically it says that an institution, there’s a total maximum price that the institution can charge per program, and if the price charged per program is more than the value-added earnings, which means the earnings that students are making once they graduate, then that institution would be penalized. And I haven’t gotten into this yet, but we’ll get into more of what that looks like. But if the maximum total price that’s charged by the institution is less than the value-added earnings, then there’s a carrot for that institution. So that’s a way to try to incentivize institutions to crack down on cost.

However, this gives us pause because when we think about value-added earnings and students who have completed, who are now graduates, they go into the labor market, unfortunately, we cannot deny, we can never deny the data. Obviously, in a perfect world, everyone who graduates would go and would start at the exact same starting point and would have access to the exact same amount of opportunities and would get paid all the exact same. It would be easy to compare, and that would truly be apples to apples and would truly be oranges to oranges. However, it doesn’t quite look like that. And the data continues to share and tell us that, depending on gender, depending on race, unfortunately, the pay is different.

And also there is this other notion that even though students go to college, they get a degree, well, they don’t necessarily always get a job in that particular degree field. And so things change there too. So it’s a little bit harder to put into an equation and to simplify, but we do understand the intent that the Republicans have, and we know that it’s good intentions. It’s just a matter of how do we get that equation to a place that really is truly representative of what’s happening in the labor market.

I’ll move on. So risk sharing is a big part of this bill too as well. And basically this is saying that institutions need to share in the risk of these loans that students are taking out. And so institutions under this bill would have to pay back to the secretary a certain amount, depending on whether or not they charge more than what the students make or they charge less than what the students make. If they charge less than what the students make, then they don’t have to pay back as much. But if they charge more than what the students make, then they have to pay back more. And so it’s completely tied to this value-added earnings and the total price by the institution. And there is a formula that they use in the bill to create this, but I won’t go into all of those details for the sake of trying to keep this high-level.

But this risk sharing component, again, remains concerning because even though they do have language in the bill that allows for institutions to basically limit loan borrowing and just to give institutions ability to say, “Hey, wait a minute, this program only costs this much. If you borrow way more than what the costs are here, the unintended consequences that could happen here. And so we want to make sure that you’re not borrowing too much because we don’t want you on the back end to be paying back too much and to be overly burdened when you are in the labor market.” So the bill does allow for those conversations and for that to happen, but at the same time, when it comes to the payment and the amount that an institution has to pay back to the department, when it’s dependent upon value-added earnings and something that the institution has no absolute control over at all whatsoever, then there’s still this big gray space that exists. So we really haven’t allowed institutions to really share in the risk intentionally on the front end and truly have an agreement with the student in saying, “We will take on the risk because we’re able to, at the beginning of this conversation, determine what that risk looks like.” It still gives us pause.

And so it’s conversations that we’re still having with staff about these very ideas and notions, but there’s some other high-level things too. It does create a income-driven repayment plan that basically allows for interest to be waived. And basically students would only be required to pay 10 years in the principal and interest that they would have paid under a standard repayment plan in this new repayment assistance plan, and everything else would be forgiven after that. But one caveat that I’d say is institutions will still be responsible for making that payment back to the secretary in whatever amount that was forgiven.

A few more things, very high-level. This bill does a lot. It terminates PLUS loans, completely eliminates PLUS loans. It lowers loan limits for students when it comes to borrowing, the loan limits, and it makes some changes as it relates to accreditation and allowing for states to be accreditors. And it removes problematic regulations, according to the Republicans, such as 90-10, and removes mostly gainful employment, financial value transparency, certification procedures, administrative capabilities. So a lot of the regulatory work the department has done, this bill undoes that and takes it back to the regulatory language prior to any changes, for the most part. And I think that, in the essence of not trying to get too weedy, I might stop there.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, and I’ll note, thanks to Jon Riskind too, who’s been monitoring the chat, links to our summary, which, Emmanual, you prepared, as well as the bill texts themselves have been posted. So for folks who haven’t yet had a chance to dig in, I certainly recommend the summary as a great way to get a little bit more detail than we’re able to give you in this format but still enough that’s manageable if this is your first approach at the bill. But, Sarah, I know some other questions have been coming in for Emmanual about the bill itself and likely progress. What have you seen so far?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, so, Emmanual, we had a question about what does this bill mean for the other standalone reauthorization bills like the Stop Campus Hazing Act, the RISE Act, campus safety legislation. Are those going to move or is the committee going to focus on CCRA?
Emmanual Guillory: So because the chairwoman has put out the CCRA, obviously the Democrats have their proposal too as well, which includes the RISE Act. This is pretty much what the committee wants to move forward. Other members who have introduced other pieces of legislation, if versions of that have not been adopted into the College Cost Reduction Act, then it’s likely that those bills won’t move.

But I will say, if the CCRA makes it to the House floor, then obviously, depending on the rule that the bill would be under on the floor, members can offer whatever amendments they would want to offer to the bill. And it could very well be these standalone bills that say, “Hey, we want to offer this as an amendment.” And it would depend on the House Rules Committee to make whatever amendments made in order. So right now, the Republicans have pretty much made their stance, this is what they want to push officially, and so then we would just have to wait for further activity on the House floor.

Jon Fansmith: And Emmanual, I want to pick up on something you said there. If it reaches the House floor, I saw another question was, “Will this bill pass?” What is the likelihood that this bill will be coming on the floor, and, if so, the likelihood that it will pass and be taken up by the Senate?

Emmanual Guillory: Well, I can tell you that the Senate side doesn’t seem to be interested in introducing a companion bill. I know that there has been some conversations around doing so, and no senator has took a bite at the apple to do that. I know that they are wanting to have their own version of how they believe things should be changed and amended in the Higher Education Act. So with that, I don’t think the Senate would necessarily want to take this bill up as is.

And if there is a chance that this bill could make it to the House floor, we don’t know exactly what that looks like, but I will say that if we look at what happened in the committee, it did pass on partisan lines. And I think that once members learn more from their institutions in their districts about how this bill would negatively, could have a negative impact potentially on students in the operations of the services being provided for students at institutions and the quality of the programs being provided for students at institutions, I think that a number of Republicans would have concerns about the bill too as well.

Especially since we know that at least there are certain delegations that are coming out opposed to... Well, I’ll retract that last statement because I don’t want to say something that’s entirely not true. I would just say, given the slim majority of the Republican Party, I think that it would be challenging, but we don’t know for sure yet. We’ll have to wait and see.

Jon Fansmith: Speaker Johnson is working with effectively a two-vote margin, so any defections are meaningful.

Sarah, were there other questions?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, Emmanual, we had a question about the accreditation piece. I don’t know if you touched on that, if CCRA includes provisions around accreditation or if you want to talk about that.

Emmanual Guillory: Yeah. So let’s see here. Basically in the accreditation piece, there are a number of changes made. I think the biggest one that I had mentioned is that states would be able to also become accreditors too as well, which could have an impact on the Triad. At least a number of folks in the higher ed space believe this could have an impact on the Triad, even though the bill tries to make it clear that it would be two separate entities that would authorize an institution in the state and then accredit an institution in the state. But the simple fact of the politics that are happening within states, as it relates to institutions and having to switch accreditors, for example, and different things like that, that there’s a fear that politics could come into play here, and could really muddy the waters of this triad system that we have now that further exists.

Jon Fansmith: Emmanual, for folks who may not know, when we talk about the Triad, we are referring to the federal, state, and accreditors as three entities, the three legs that make up the stool of overseeing institutional approval to operate and access Title IV federal financial aid.

Emmanual Guillory: Yeah. Thank you so much for that, Jon.

Jon Fansmith: Mhmm.

Emmanual Guillory: Outside of that, there are operating procedures on what accreditors are allowed to do and not allowed to do, based on the metrics that the outcomes are now built in more when it comes to what accreditors are looking at when they’re assessing the quality of an academic program. They’re using the value-added earnings metric piece too as well to determine quality, which is very concerning to us. And so accreditors are being required to look at value-added earnings for different programs. So, like I mentioned earlier, if the total price is less or more than, there’s a carrot and a stick for that, even within accreditation. And so those are some examples of things that are happening in this space. I can always go into more, but then it gets a little bit into the weeds. So...

Jon Fansmith: It is. It is—and thank you for that—it is a pretty fundamental shift in terms of opening up the accreditation process in ways that I think we’ve seen some interest in, but also a lot of concerns about what that might mean.

I do want to keep our discussion moving because we could probably talk about CCRA for hours and hours, days and days, which is what exactly you’ve been doing, Emmanual. But the other thing we keep hearing about from members, from journalists and the media: FAFSA implementation, which I think we can all agree has gone pretty terribly up to this point. Emmanual, you want to catch people up on where we stand on FAFSA implementation?

Emmanual Guillory: Yeah. So unfortunately, we are experiencing delays. And I know that you all are reading about this and hearing about this, and right now, while students have been able to complete the FAFSA, I think around 3.6 million and more, over 3.6 million-

Jon Fansmith: More at this point, yeah.

Emmanual Guillory: ... have completed the FAFSA. We’re having some issues with basically the software and the systems to ensure all of this can operate efficiently and smoothly. So the Institutional Student Information Records that are sent to institutions to help them package aid accordingly, that process is being delayed. The updating of the income protection allowances, which is required in the Higher Education Act, that process is still underway. We haven’t officially gotten the Federal Register notice of the updates of those tables to best package the aid.

So this is preventing institutions from really being able to package aid accordingly as they normally would. We know we have some institutions that have dates, as early as February 1st, award deadlines, but those institutions are pushing back deadlines in order to help students be able to compare and contrast effectively what institution that they believe is best for them. And-

Jon Fansmith: Let me interrupt for one second just to mention we at ACE have started compiling a list of institutions that have pushed back their deadlines. Certainly, I know a lot of you are tuning in from a campus. Would encourage you to take a look at that list. I think our producers might drop a link in the chat. See if your institution, if you have changed your policies, if you have and you’re not on that list, let us know. We’d like to make sure that people understand who’s doing what in this space. So, sorry to interrupt you, Emmanual. Go right ahead, but I wanted to make sure people knew about that.

Emmanual Guillory: No, you’re fine. This all kicks off because of the challenge within the Department of Education to implement the FAFSA Simplification Act of 2020, which simplifies the FAFSA and supposed to make things easier. But there was a whole system update that needed to happen to ensure that the FUTURE Act could be implemented accordingly and allowing the IRS to speak to the department and then to update the proper systems to allow for this new FAFSA to go live.

So because that didn’t happen until December 30th, then that was the initial pushback. And then the income protection allowance data and tables needed not being updated yet, another pushback. And then now there’s something called the Student Aid Internet Gateway, and so the financial aid administrators on your campuses would know a lot about that, but there’s also an update that needs to happen there too. And so we know that there’s around 900 institutions or so that have not done this update. And if you haven’t done the update, then you cannot receive those Institutional Student Information Records. Hopefully I’m getting that right. ISIRs.

Jon Fansmith: ISIRs. Yup.

Emmanual Guillory: You won’t be able to receive those ISIRs to be able to then package the aid effectively. So there’s just a number of things happening, and it’s all in a time crunch. And there are rumors that even though the department is saying that institutions should be able to have their ISIRs in mid-March, by mid-March, there may be more time needed for that too.

So we’re all... What we do know, though, is that the department’s doing everything that they can to make sure that this is as smooth as possible. And at ACE, we’re doing what we can to better understand how this is having an impact on all of our members. We did send out a survey on Monday to ask if the SAIG mailboxes have been updated, and with the ISIRs, how quickly could you process those once you receive them, just to help the department better understand where our membership are. So we’re all trying to figure this out together and do what’s best for students.

Sarah Spreitzer: Hey, Emmanual-

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, and it’s-

Sarah Spreitzer: Oh, sorry-

Jon Fansmith: Sorry. I was going to say, Sarah. It’s worth keeping in mind the reason we’re going through all this is that, and I know I’ve talked to people who personally have done the FAFSA under the new form and were able to knock it out in 25, 30 minutes. It is easier to complete. It is faster to complete. The expectation is when the new formulas are put forward that more students will get more aid. So there are very good reasons we are doing this. The problem is getting to that point.

There’s a lot of, and frankly, far more problems than anyone expected we’d see, and as Emmanual touched on, they keep multiplying as we get further and further into this process, and the window of time is getting shorter and shorter.

I think we feel the frustration from campuses who are trying to help low-income students navigate a really complicated and very meaningful process to them. And right now it’s almost like the department is absolutely trying their best, but it’s more and more obstacles in the way of those students that we’re most worried about. So a lot of concern, a lot of frustration out there, and make it clear we are conveying that and doing things like the survey, other things that we can do to help, as intermediaries with the Department of Education, our members who, again, rightfully, I think, very angry about what they’ve experienced so far.

But sorry, Sarah, I cut you off.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, no worries. Actually, one of the questions that we had from the audience was what did they actually do to improve the FAFSA? So you kind of answered that, Jon, that it is easier for students to actually complete and that hopefully it will end up with more aid going out the door from the department.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. And Emmanual touched on this, they get the data directly from the IRS so that it saves a lot of that trouble of having to produce tax forms and other documentation that can be a challenge for people. It also makes sure that some of the verification, which was always a problem for people, isn’t as necessary. So there is, there’s a lot to be happy about when it’s finally in place and running smoothly. We’re just, it looks right now like we’re far, far away from that point so far.

Were there other questions, Sarah? All right. We have a few minutes left. Certainly if you have questions, send them in. I don’t know if we’ll be able to get to them, but...

Oh, actually now, as soon as we say that there are... I just saw a question about families. And this has been covered pretty widely in the press. The form, currently, the electronic form doesn’t allow students who have parents of mixed status, so they may not have a Social Security number for a variety of reasons. You cannot advance the form if that is the case, if you cannot provide Social Security numbers for your parents. Couple questions still popping in on that. “What is the department doing to address that?” Well, they’re working on it. That’s what they’ve told us. That’s what they’ve been telling us for a while.

We have seen recommendations from other groups, particularly college counseling groups and student financial aid groups, who have said, if you are a student and you are in this situation, the paper FAFSA form actually allows you to complete the form and submit it. The problem, of course, of submitting a paper FAFSA form is it’s slower to process; you have to fill it out; you have to submit it; the department will have to review it and process it. It will actually advance the process, but as we talk about this sensitivity to deadlines, this impending dates for making decisions about aid and enrollment, additional delays are additional problems. So it is a difficult position. Obviously, we’re hopeful that the department’s contractors will get this resolved on the online form so that students in those situations can get the aid they’re entitled to, but right now, not much of an update other than the paper form may be the best current option.

But we should turn to our last item, and we really only have a few minutes for this, Emmanual, so super high-level. Negotiated rulemaking. We are in the midst of... Well, currently we’re in the midst of two negotiated rulemakings, three, if you include the TRIO subgroup as a separate entity. One big one, though, about institutional program integrity and institutional quality. You want to catch us up on where that stands?

Emmanual Guillory: Yes, Jon. So, as you mentioned, the department is in the process of, I guess, three negotiated rulemaking sessions. One dealing with student loan debt relief, which they’re actually going to meet February 22nd and 23rd to look at hardships and allow for the secretary to just basically make a determination, any determination that it wants, on what a hardship is and forgive student loan debt.

But with the program integrity and institutional quality committee, they are about to meet for a third time, March 4th to 7th, but they’ve already met twice on five key issues, accreditation being one, cash management is the second, distance education is the third, state authorization is the fourth, and the return to Title IV is the fifth. And then there’s a subcommittee within this program integrity and institutional quality committee that’s looking at TRIO and looking at undocumented students’ access to TRIO programs.

And so with these conversations, we have been hearing from a number of folks about concerns and issues, but I would say the two biggest concerns that we’ve been hearing about are the meal plans on college campuses and inclusive and equitable access too as well to textbooks. And so we don’t have a whole lot of time left, but these two have bubbled to the top to be the loudest. Not saying they’re the most important.

There are also issues in state authorization too as well, that the department is working through, definitely accreditation and mandating teach-out programs now, if an accreditor is switched. That’s a recent proposal. ACE has not been weighing in, and we don’t plan to weigh in while the sausage is being made right now in this part of it. But when there’s a notice of proposed rulemaking, then that’s when we would plan to share comments and share the concerns and things of that nature, but we’re in a state of a lot of information gathering.

But with inclusive and equitable access, one thing that I wanted to share is that the Obama administration put this language in to allow for institutions to be able to negotiate with a vendor to provide or contracting, to provide service, to provide books, that are below market rates to ensure that students had textbooks on day one of class and negotiate those accordingly. The department obviously is wanting to make sure that students aren’t paying more than what they should for textbooks, which we can understand that rationale and logic, and we can understand negotiators who are wanting that same thing too as well.

But we always have to talk about both sides of the coin. For every discussion, there’s not just one side; there’s always another side. Even with inclusive and equitable access, for example, for those institutions that have inclusive access, which that means you can do it per program even, or a faculty member can negotiate textbooks and things of that nature. Well, students do have the ability to opt out. But it should be easier. We did see some negotiators offer language around this, trying to make it easier for the opt-out process. That is important. We don’t want that to be overly burdensome on students.

But really quickly, because I know we’re at time, if I transition to the meal plan issue and flex funds, and the inability of institutions to be able to hold and keep leftover flex funds, the other side of the coin is institutions are using those flex dollars to cover things such as food services labor, supplies, and other costs, even using those dollars to pour back into financial aid for students too as well. And so I feel like what’s getting lost in this conversation is the other side of the coin. So if you are keeping flex dollars, how are institutions using that money? What are you doing to help students? How are you bettering the experience for students? What is it being used, where is it going towards?

I got a little bit into the weeds on those two things. Those two things are the big bubbling things. But we are monitoring this, and we’ll continue to see what will happen here.

Jon Fansmith: Well, we appreciate you being in the weeds on these issues, Emmanual, and tracking them for people. We also appreciate all of you taking time out of your day to join us. As Emmanual noted, we are actually over time, but as you can tell, there is plenty going on here in Washington, plenty to talk about. Emmanual, thank you for joining us. Sarah, as always, thank you for joining us, and thanks to all of you for attending and, again, the great questions that really keep this moving forward and hopefully make it meaningful to all of you. So thanks again, enjoyed doing it, and we’ll talk to you soon.

Emmanual Guillory: Thank you.

Jon Fansmith: Thank you for joining us on dotEDU. If you enjoyed the show, please consider subscribing, rating, and leaving a review on your favorite podcast platform. Your feedback is important to us, and it helps other policy wonks discover our show. Don’t forget to follow ACE on social media to stay updated on upcoming episodes and other higher education content. You can find us on X, LinkedIn, and Instagram. And, of course, if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, please feel free to reach out to us at We love hearing from our listeners, and who knows, your input might inspire a future episode.

About the Podcast

​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major public policy issue impacting college campuses and students across the country. Hosts from ACE are joined by guest experts to lead you through thought-provoking conversations on topics such as campus free speech, diversity in admissions, college costs and affordability, and more. Find all episodes of the podcast at the dotEDU page.

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