Editor’s note: This weekly update from the government relations office at the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) provides the latest on what’s happening in Washington and how AACC is advancing policies to support community colleges and students. Send questions, feedback and more to: email@example.com.
- FY 2024 Funding Update
- House Republicans unveil new HEA reauthorization proposal, advance bill to protect pregnant students
- Disagreements emerge at negotiated rulemaking TRIO Subcommittee
- Department of Education announces early implementation of SAVE plan forgiveness feature
- House Democrats ask for more information on FAFSA implementation
This week, Congress is working to avoid a partial government shutdown, with funding for the departments of Agriculture, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development set to expire at midnight on January 19. Due to the “laddered” Continuing Resolution (CR) passed late last year, funding for the remaining government agencies, including the departments of Education and Labor, will not expire until February 2.
Congressional leaders are hoping to pass a short-term extension that will extend the current CRs to March 1 for the four funding bills expiring this week and to March 8 for the remaining eight bills. This would keep the government open and give appropriators more time to negotiate funding levels for fiscal year 2024 (FY 24). As a reminder, if Congress cannot pass full-year FY 24 funding bills by April 30, there will be a 1 percent cut below FY 23 levels for defense and nondefense discretionary spending, per the terms of the debt ceiling agreement passed last June.
Last week, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina), chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, released the College Cost Reduction Act (CCRA). Earlier this year, the Committee announced their intention to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA) through a series of piecemeal bills. The first was the DETERRENT Act, which updates Sec. 117 and deals with foreign gifts and partnerships. The CCRA tackles a much larger section of the HEA, including Title IV, accreditation, college completion, and student loans.
As AACC’s Jim Hermes details in the Community College Daily, the CCRA’s central proposal is a new risk-sharing accountability scheme. Colleges would be subject to a new “earnings-price ratio” (EPR), that looks at former students’ median earnings above 150% of the federal poverty line, divided by the cost of the program they attended. Colleges that have a low EPR would be required to pay a portion of the cost of missed loan payments or interest not paid by former students. The proposal also includes an incentive program called “PROMISE Grants.” An institution’s grant amount is determined by taking its total Pell Grant funds awarded, multiplying that amount by its EPR-1, and then multiplying that number by the percentage of students that complete their programs on time. To receive a grant, therefore, an institution’s EPR must be greater than one. Grants would be funded by repurposing the funding for Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) and through dollars collected from colleges subject to the risk-sharing penalties. Due to community colleges’ low tuitions and rates of borrowing, an early analysis has the community college sector faring well under this proposal, netting around $1.7 billion in funding.
This week, the Committee approved the Pregnant Students’ Rights Act for floor consideration. The bill would require colleges to increase the information available to pregnant students about accommodations they are entitled to, campus and community resources, and information on how to file complaints with colleges’ Title IX offices. House Democrats opposed the measure, citing that pregnant students are already protected under Title IX and criticizing the lack of information required to be presented about their reproductive health options. The White House has already signaled their opposition to the bill.
Last week, the Department of Education (ED) concluded the first round of negotiated rulemaking sessions on Title IV program integrity and quality issues. While the larger rulemaking table is tackling accreditation, state authorization, distance education, return of Title IV funds (R2T4), and cash management issues, there is also a dedicated subcommittee considering extending eligibility for TRIO programs to students who are not U.S. citizens.
Subcommittee members expressed concerns over implementing this policy change in a difficult political environment, worrying that it could undermine general support and funding for the program on the Hill. At the end of the first subcommittee session, only one of the five members supported ED’s language to expand eligibility. The subcommittee is scheduled to meet again on February 8.
Last week, ED announced they will begin student loan forgiveness for borrowers who took out loans of $12,000 or less and have made at least 10 years of monthly payments starting in February. The accelerated forgiveness for small dollar borrowers is a key feature of the Biden Administration’s new, borrower-friendly income-driven repayment plan, Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE). As AACC’s Alexis Gravely outlines in the Community College Daily, borrowers who attended community colleges are expected to be one of the primary beneficiaries of this policy change.
Last week, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia), ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, sent a letter to ED expressing concerns over the announced delays in FAFSA processing and requesting additional information on the Department’s plan to support students, families, counselors, institutions, and other stakeholders as they navigate the financial aid process for the 2024-25 award cycle. While the long-awaited simplified form has officially launched for students and families, ED has communicated that colleges should expect at least a month-long delay in the processing of Institutional Student Information Records (ISIRs).
In addition to questions about the delayed ISIR processing, Rep. Scott also raised concerns over the delayed processing of paper FAFSAs and its potential impact on incarcerated students. He also asked if the Department would alter verification procedures in recognition of the condensed timeline. ED has until February 1 to respond to the oversight inquiry.