FUTURE Act passes –
Last week the Senate passed by unanimous consent a bipartisan deal struck by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) to amend the FUTURE Act, which already passed the House, to permanently reauthorize the funding stream for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The amended version has passed the House and will go to President Trump, who has indicated he will sign it.
The $255 million program is paid for by making changes to the FAFSA and the Internal Revenue Code to allow more data-sharing between the Department of Education and the Department of Treasury. Doing so will streamline the FAFSA application process, reducing the FAFSA form by as many as 22 questions – which will benefit all 20 million FAFSA applicants, while saving the federal government approximately $6 billion in mistakes resulting from overpayments and underpayments of Pell grants and student loans.
This agreement between Sens. Alexander and Murray also suggests that there may be progress in the Senate on a comprehensive version of Higher Education Act Reauthorization.
House passes $1.4 trillion spending bill –
On Tuesday the House approved a $1.4 trillion spending package, which, should the Senate act by Friday, will avoid a shutdown of the federal government. Previously, Congress passed, and President Trump signed, a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the federal government running until December 20. If House and Senate budget negotiators are unable to agree, impeachment proceedings next year would likely necessitate a CR that would last until February or March.
The spending bill increases the maximum Pell Grant by $150 to $6,345, and adds $25 million for a total of $865 million, for the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) program. It also allocates $1.2 billion for the Federal Work-Study program, a $50 million increase from FY 2019.
Of significance for independent colleges, the bill repeals the new tax on nonprofit employers who offer transportation benefits – the so-called “parking tax.”
Earnings data now on College Scorecard website –
The U.S. Department of Education has, for the first time, published on the federal website, the College Scorecard, the median annual earnings, by program, of students one year after graduation.
There are several very important qualifiers:
- As mentioned above, the College Scorecard only provides information on the earnings of college graduates after one year. There is concern that families will miss that subtlety and interpret the information as the average salary of all graduates.
- The earnings information is by program, but only those programs with more than 10 graduates in the federal dataset – this is to ensure that the personal information regarding individual graduates cannot be gleaned from the reports. However, doing so also leaves out many programs, particularly at smaller institutions.
- The website captures the earnings only of those graduates who received federal aid or a federal student loan. Again, many students are not included in the data.
For those who want to do a deep dive in the data, the College Scorecard report for each institution provides information for all majors for which information is reportable. There are also click options to sort the “Fields of Study” tab by Highest Earnings and Lowest Debt. It appears that earnings are published for certificate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs which meet the reporting thresholds. The data sets are available as are the Technical Documentation for Data Files by Field of Study document which further explains the methodology behind the data release.
Executive Order signed to combat anti-Semitism –
President Trump has signed an executive order that directs federal agencies to adopt a more expansive definition of anti-Semitism and clarifies the circumstances under which anti-Semitic conduct will be construed as a form of national origin discrimination.
The executive order is very similar to guidance issued by the Obama Administration in 2010 which offer the following interpretation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act: “Harassment against students who are members of any religious group triggers a school’s Title VI responsibilities when the harassment is based on the group’s actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, rather than solely on its members’ religious practices.”
Like the Obama-era guidance, President Trump’s order states that “discrimination against Jews may give rise to a Title VI violation when the discrimination is based on an individual’s race, color, or national origin.”
Additionally, the order allows federal agencies to adopt the same broad definition of anti-Semitism that is contained in the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2019. The new executive order also clarifies that federal agencies are prohibited from infringing upon First Amendment free speech rights.
Justice Department reaches antitrust settlement with NACAC –
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has reached an agreement with the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) to resolve its two-year antitrust investigation of the group’s operation.
As you may recall from a previous update, the DOJ alleged NACAC’s code of ethics constituted an unlawful restriction on competition in violation of federal antitrust laws. In an effort to satisfy DOJ, NACAC voted in September to eliminate the relevant sections from its code of ethics with which DOJ took exception. Nevertheless, DOJ pursued a lawsuit, and NACAC agreed to enter into a consent decree in order to avoid lengthy and costly litigation.
The deleted provisions:
- Precluded institutions from providing exclusive incentives to early decision applicants;
- Barred the recruitment of students who have committed to another college unless the students initiate an inquiry; and
- Prohibited the recruitment of transfer students unless the students initiate contact.
Under procedural rules that govern such agreements, the proposed consent decree will be published in the Federal Register for public comments. After the comment period closes, a court is expected to enter a final judgment approving the consent decree.