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

President to President: ACE, Higher Education Groups Weigh In on Senate Immigration Bill

Vol. 14, No. 14

  • Senate Judiciary Committee Begins Debate on Immigration Bill; ACE, Higher Education Groups Weigh In
  • Congress Begins Action on Pending Student Loan Interest Rate Increase
  • Bill Introduced to Make American Opportunity Tax Credit Permanent
  • ACE Paper Argues There Is Scant Evidence Proving Federal Aid Drives Up College Prices
  • IN BRIEF: College Board Releases Fisher Supreme Court Guidance; House Committee Approves In-State Tuition Bill for Veterans; IRS Releases Final Report for the Colleges and Universities Compliance Project; House Committee Requests Comments on HEA Reauthorization; WEBINAR: Clery Act and the Violence Against Women Act

The Senate Judiciary Committee began debating its much-anticipated comprehensive immigration bill today, the first step in a process that is expected to take months and the outcome of which is anything but certain. 

ACE and 12 other higher education groups sent a letter to the committee Wednesday on the proposed 844-page Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S. 744). While there is much to like in the measure, there are certain issues we are urging the committee to consider as they work on the bill.

The measure incorporates an expansive version of the DREAM Act, which we have supported since its first introduction in 2001. The version of the DREAM Act included in S. 744 removes the age cap for eligibility and repeals the current federal law that limits states' options to provide in-state tuition to undocumented students. However, we are concerned that unlike earlier versions, S. 744 removes access to federal loans and work-study for DREAM students, which will put college out of reach for many. Our letter asks the committee to amend the bill to allow qualified students to be eligible to receive this support.

We also applaud provisions that streamline the green card process for those who graduate with an advanced STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degree from a U.S. higher education institution, as well as reforms in the bill addressing non-immigrant visas, particularly the H-1B visa.

To fine-tune these sections, we ask committee members to broaden the definition of STEM fields, as it includes additional scientific fields that are critical to our economy. We also outline concerns with some of the new fees proposed in the bill, including the $500 STEM labor certification fee and the $500 J-1 (work-and-study-based exchange visitor program) visa fee. On the latter, we were pleased to see that Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has proposed an amendment that would exempt higher education institutions from paying the fee.

The Judiciary Committee has scheduled multiple additional days over the next three weeks to mark up the bill, which is very unusual. Given that this is an extremely hot button issue—and that over 300 amendments have already been proposed—it is certain to change substantially.

The full Senate is expected to consider the measure sometime in June.

Both the House and Senate have begun to take action on the pending increase in interest rates for federal student loans.

As you know, on July 1, interest rates on Subsidized Student Loans will jump from 3.4 to 6.8 percent. President Obama put forward a plan as part of his FY 2014 budget to address this. In the Senate, bills have been introduced by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Richard Burr (R-NC) and Tom Coburn (R-OK); Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI); and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Yesterday, Rep. John Kline (R-MN) and Virginia Foxx (R-NC) of the House Education and Workforce Committee introduced the Smarter Solutions for Students Act (H.R. 1911).

All of these would be better, at least for students, than the big interest rate increase ahead. However, they differ considerably in the way they set the rate and how they pay for the proposal. This is a huge issue—we are watching it very carefully and will keep you informed as events unfold.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) has introduced legislation to make important reforms to the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) and Lifetime Learning Credit, an effort we strongly support.

The American Opportunity Tax Credit Act of 2013 (H.R. 1738) would significantly improve these higher education tax credits by consolidating the AOTC and Lifetime Learning Credit into one simplified, permanent AOTC that would provide up to $2,500 per year in tax relief for students and their families. It also incorporates the 40 percent partial refundability of the AOTC and better coordinates the interaction of the tax credit with the Pell Grant, making college more affordable for low and middle-income students. H.R. 1738 is similar to Sen. Schumer's bill (S. 835) that we have already endorsed.

You can read our letter endorsing Rep. Doggett's bill here.

We released a new monograph this week that finds scant evidence of a relationship between changes in federal student aid and tuition increases.

Written by Donald E. Heller for ACE, Does Federal Financial Aid Drive Up College Prices? examines the research on the so-called "Bennett Hypothesis," which stems from a 1987 New York Times op-ed by former Secretary of Education William Bennett. He suggested that the availability of federal student loans, and in particular subsidized loans, provides "cover" for institutions to raise tuition because students can offset any price increase with these loans.

Dr. Heller, who is dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University, gives a brief overview of federal financial aid programs, recent trends in tuition and the economic theory behind financial aid and tuition, and then reviews some of the major interpretations of the Bennett Hypothesis advanced over the years. Click here to download a free PDF of the paper.

IN BRIEF

In preparation for the Supreme Court's forthcoming decision in Fisher v. University of Texas, the College Board's Access and Diversity Collaborative has released the guide, Preparing for the Fisher Decision: Are You Ready? This document provides a brief introduction to the case, identifies areas for action (both now and on the day the ruling is released), and offers support to help institutions and organizations craft statements regarding the decision. As you know, this case presents a challenge to consideration of race and ethnicity in college admissions and is of intense interest. You will want to be ready for inquiries from many sources when the decision is announced.

The House Veterans' Affairs Committee has approved a bill (H.R. 357​) that would require public institutions to charge veterans in-state tuition rates, regardless of their residency status. Under the proposal, colleges and universities that don't offer in-state tuition for all veterans would be ineligible to receive GI Bill money. The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee is holding a hearing next week to discuss Sen. John Boozman's (R-AR) companion bill, S. 257.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has released its final report on the Colleges and Universities Compliance Project, based on 34 compliance reviews conducted by the IRS from among the 400 institutions who responded to a compliance questionnaire in 2008. Among the report's key finding are a significant under-reporting of Unrelated Business Income Tax by the institutions examined.

Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training are seeking input from the higher education community and other stakeholders on suggested policy changes and amendments to the Higher Education Act, which will expire at the end of 2013. The letter identifies six particular issues of interest, including the need to balance accountability with the burden of federal requirements. Responses should be sent by Aug. 2, 2013 to HEA.Reauth@mail.house.gov.

The National Association of College and University Attorneys, in cooperation with ACE, is hosting a webinar ​May 31 on the Clery Act amendments in the newly reauthorized Violence Against Women Act and what they mean for Clery Act and Title IX compliance. The revamped law requires colleges and universities to begin including in their annual security reports incidents of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking reported to campus security authorities or local police agencies. This webinar will discuss changes colleges and universities must make to maintain compliance and address the many questions and ambiguities inherent in the amendments that institutions must manage.

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE​​​