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ACE president’s weekly email newsletter to higher education leaders

CURRENT EDITION December 10-14, 2018 ~ Vol. 19, No. 34

As the end of the year and the end of the 115th Congress approach, this is likely to be my last President to President message until January. Many policy issues remain unsettled, most significantly passing a spending bill for the remainder of this fiscal year and averting a partial government shutdown, as official Washington prepares to decamp for the holiday break.

Like most of you, I watched President Trump’s heated encounter this week at the White House with House and Senate minority leaders Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY). At this point, the prospects for a final spending measure are completely unclear, with the president insisting he is willing to shutter part of the government if Democrats won’t supply the funding he wants for a border wall. Congress and the administration have until next Friday, Dec. 21, to come to an agreement. Any shutdown will not affect the Departments of Education, Defense, or Health and Human Services (and therefore not the National Institutes of Health), since full-year funding for those agencies has already been approved. However, it will mean the temporary closure of agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and the National Science Foundation. Let’s hope cooler heads prevail.

Before I get to this week’s news, I hope you will consider attending—or sending members of your senior leadership staff—one of two upcoming ACE regional summits on student mental health: the ACE West Winter Summit, Jan. 17-18 in Tucson, Arizona, or the ACE South Winter Summit, Feb. 7-8 in New Orleans. Peer-group breakout sessions will allow for more intimate conversations with your fellow presidents and other senior leaders as you work to address this urgent concern. Click here for more information and to register. 

  •  ACE Submits Comments on Proposed Public Charge Rule

    ​We submitted comments this week on the Trump administration’s proposal to overhaul how the government evaluates whether a would-be immigrant is “not likely to be a public charge”—that is, not likely to use public benefits such as food stamps or Medicaid, a requirement of many visa categories and green card applications.

    The administration’s proposed new definition would require an extended investigation into an immigrant’s history and job prospects, and give wide-ranging discretion to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to reject an immigrant’s application for admission, an extension, or change of status. It also would allow USCIS to reject applications from non-immigrants such as international students seeking student visas.

    At issue is how the government looks at public benefits an immigrant has already used or is likely to use. While only cash benefits are considered right now, the new approach would include Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps), Section 8 and other housing benefits, and Medicare Part D subsidies for low-income earners.

    In comments submitted on behalf of 31 other higher education associations, we expressed concern over how the proposed change would impact American students with immigrant family members as well as international students, including graduate and professional students who upon graduation may become legally employed in the United States.

    Although Title IV programs are not included in the definition, we requested that they be specifically excluded to help curb a potential chilling effect on first-generation American college students. We also asked for F-1 and J-1 student and exchange visitors to be excluded—we believe the expansion of public charge to apply to non-immigrants will create further delays in visa processing and discourage international students and scholars from coming to the United States.

    To read our comments in full, click here.

  •  ED Confirms Delay in Perkins Loan Funds Recall

    ​If your institution is in the Perkins Loan Program, there is important information this week for your campus. The Department of Education (ED) last week responded to requests from ACE and the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and announced they would delay the required return of Perkins Loan funds until it figured out what to do with “canceled” loans.

    We wrote to ED in October, saying that due to the lack of reimbursements for cancellations, some institutions have had to use more than $3 million of their own funds to meet cancellation requirements. Meanwhile, the federal government has an obligation to pay the millions of dollars that it owes to colleges over this period of time, as we wrote in a previous letter in July. ED said in its response that while the agency cannot reimburse colleges for what they’ve spent on the cancellations without appropriated funds from Congress, it will delay asking institutions to begin returning their unspent Perkins funds to allow for further time to resolve the matter.

    The step may not seem that significant. However, an estimated $300 million is at stake, and every institution participating in the Perkins Loan Program will be affected by the outcome of this discussion. For those of you who responded to our request last month to communicate your concerns to elected officials and the department, thank you for your efforts—our collective voice was heard.

    For more on this issue, see our Perkins cancellations web page.​

  •  Senate Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing on China’s “Non-Traditional” Espionage

    ​​The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing Wednesday on “China’s Non-Traditional Espionage Against the United States: The Threat and Potential Policy Responses,” including China’s goals to surpass U.S. research and innovation and efforts to accomplish this through economic and industrial espionage.

    Several witnesses spoke to specific concerns surrounding universities, including partnerships such as Confucius Institutes, talent recruitment programs targeting U.S. academics, and the open nature of academic labs. Among their recommendations was requiring academics who participate in a Chinese talent recruitment program to register under the Foreign Agent and Registration Act as well as possible changes to export control rules to tighten security in university labs. ACE continues to work with other presidential associations and many of you, along with relevant federal security and science agencies to proactively address these concerns.

    Committee members from both parties continued to express concern with the efforts by China to steal intellectual property, commit cyberespionage, and influence U.S. research and development enterprise. Several senators raised the issue of Confucius Institutes and asked if these institutes curtailed free speech in exchange for funding provided to their host university. However, the lawmakers also recognized the importance of international students and a number were careful to separate the benefits those students bring to campuses and our economy from the security issues. Witnesses said there needs to be more transparency around Confucius Institutes and discussed the recent Hoover Institute report and its recommendations aimed at universities.

  •  IRS Issues Interim Guidance on Parking Benefits

    ​I want to call your attention to interim guidance issued Monday by the IRS for determining the taxation of parking fringe benefits for nonprofits, another provision included in the tax bill. The new rule lays out for nonprofits the unrelated business income taxes (UBIT) they will now be responsible to pay on certain parking benefits they provide to their employees. This would have a major impact across the nonprofit community, including higher education.

    We opposed this provision during the tax reform debate last fall and have been urging lawmakers to repeal this provision, and we believe there will be bipartisan support for doing so. Just last week, House Ways and Means Chair Kevin Brady (R-TX) released a year-end tax package that would, among its provisions, repeal the parking fringe benefit UBIT provision. However, this bill may not even pass the House and has virtually no chance to be approved by the Senate before the 115th Congress adjourns. It also includes the repeal (which we would oppose) of the so-called Johnson Amendment that currently prohibits tax-exempt organizations from donating to or endorsing political candidates.

  •  IN BRIEF: ACE2019; NASEM Report

    ​I am looking forward to seeing many of you in Philadelphia March 9-12 at ACE2019, ACE’s 101st Annual Meeting. Among the thought-provoking speakers will be author Tara Westover, who will discuss her best-selling memoir Educated and the transformative power of education during the Monday Luncheon Plenary. The concurrent sessions include the always popular, “What Keeps You Up at Night: Inside Higher Ed's 2019 Survey of Presidents.” Click here to visit the ACE2019 website for more information and to register.

    The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report yesterday calling on higher education leaders, policymakers, and the private sector to take a range of actions to strengthen STEM programs and degree attainment in the nation’s Minority Serving Institutions. ACE Vice President of Research Lorelle Espinosa co-chaired the committee that wrote the report. She noted as part of the report’s release yesterday that, “Given the projected demographic profile of our nation, the educational outcomes and STEM readiness of students of color will have direct implications for American’s economic growth, national security, and global prosperity.” To read the full report, click here​.

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