Congress is engaged in resolving the final details of FY 2012 funding for federal government programs, though many crucial decisions still must be made. The federal government is currently operating under a continuing resolution that expires December 16. With only three of the 12 appropriations bills enacted, Congress must either pass the remaining nine bills as an “omnibus” package, or pass another continuing resolution that will give them more time to finish this legislation. Consequently, negotiations among congressional members and their staffs are ongoing on many crucial issues to community colleges.
The Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (LHHS) appropriations bill is one of those bills that must be passed and it remains the most contentious. The Senate Committee on Appropriations passed its version of the bill in September, while the House Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee chairman posted his version of the legislation on the committee’s website. No formal action has been taken on the House bill. For many education programs, both bills would provide funding at the same level as in FY 2011, notably the Carl D. Perkins Act career and technical education programs. In three key areas, however, the Senate and House bills differ dramatically.
First and foremost, the Senate and House bills take starkly different approaches to saving the $1.3 billion necessary to fill a current shortfall in the Federal Pell Grant program. The House bill, while maintaining the maximum grant at $5,550, includes a list of proposed eligibility changes that would cut the program’s cost by an estimated $3.6 billion, well beyond the $1.3 billion necessary to resolve the current program shortfall. These changes would eliminate Pell eligibility altogether for more than 500,000 students and reduce the grant for millions more. Read a full discussion of these proposed changes.
The Senate approach, which AACC supported, would end interest subsidies for federal student loans during the 6-month grace period after a student leaves school. At the time the Senate committee acted on its bill, this approach would have produced sufficient savings to more than offset the $1.3 billion shortfall. However, due to a House Budget Committee ruling, this proposal now only covers about $400 million of the shortfall, leaving approximately $900 million in savings that still must be achieved to fill the gap. These savings will most likely come from within the Pell Grant program itself.
While we remain deeply concerned about all the changes proposed by the House, we are asking that you weigh in on two that particularly impact community college students: the loss of Pell Grant eligibility for less-than-halftime students and students who enroll in our institutions without a high school diploma or GED, or the so-called “ability-to-benefit” (ATB) students. Of the more than 108,000 students enrolled less than half-time who receive Pell Grants, half are enrolled at community colleges. Approximately 100,000 students at 2-year public colleges do not have a high school diploma or GED. These Pell eligibility changes would produce little savings to the overall Pell Grant program, but would disproportionally impact community college students. Many programs offering integrated basic education and postsecondary skills training, such as Washington’s I-BEST program, are heavily populated by ATB students that rely on their ability to access Pell Grants.
Workforce Training Programs
The House LHHS appropriations bill proposes devastating cuts to the workforce training programs administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, including the formula programs authorized by the Workforce Investment Act to administer the One-Stop Career Centers and provide funds to workers to access the training they need to get new jobs or to keep their current ones. Overall, the House bill would cut $2.2 billion, or 75%, of the funding for these programs in FY 2012, with even greater future reductions likely if enacted. The committee has stated that the cuts result from a shift from program year to fiscal year funding, and will be restored in FY 2013. Doing so, however, would require a large increase in funding for these programs next year, which is very unlikely given the current funding climate.
Workforce training programs were cut significantly in FY 2011, and the Senate bill provides level funding for them in FY 2012. Please strongly urge your members of Congress to support the Senate approach.
Minority Serving Institutions
The House measure also would dramatically reduce institutional aid for minority-serving institutions, although funding for Strengthening Institutions (HEA Title III-A) would be maintained. More than 100 community colleges are Hispanic-serving institutions, the majority of Predominately Black Institutions are two-year colleges, and some community colleges receive funding under the Asian American Pacific Islander institutions, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian-serving institutions, Native American-serving nontribal institutions, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and tribal colleges programs. With a combined 41% reduction in funding for minority-serving institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities, these cuts would pose a considerable challenge for our institutions serving these disadvantaged and historically marginalized populations.