The Executive Budget –
After considerable progress in Congress toward increasing federal financial aid, President Trump has submitted his FY2021 budget request, and it includes similar deep cuts as he proposed last year.
As you review the following summary, keep in mind that these proposals are most likely “dead on arrival” in Congress:
- Hold Pell Grants flat, keeping the maximum at $6,345
- Eliminate the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG)
- Cut Federal Work Study by $680 million
- Cut TRIO by $140 million
- Eliminate the $365 million of GEAR UP funding, with the program’s activities consolidated into a State Student Support Block Grant.
The budget request also proposes changes to student loan programs intended to save $170 billion over 10 years through higher costs for students and limiting access to borrowing from federal programs:
- Eliminate subsidized loans for low-income students
- Eliminate Public Service Loan Forgiveness
- Limit graduate student borrowing
- Create a single Income-Driven Repayment plan
- Eliminate the standard repayment cap
While included in the executive budget, these proposals actually could not be implemented through the budget process. Because student loans are an entitlement program, and not funded annually, these proposals would need to be enacted through the Higher Education Act reauthorization process or a budget reconciliation process.
NAICU Conference and Advocacy Day –
I’d like to share with you the highlights from this week’s 2020 NAICU Conference and Advocacy Day.
First and foremost I would like to thank Spartanburg Methodist College President Scott Cochran for taking the time to join me in DC. In our numerous Capitol Hill visits Scott was a powerful and articulate voice for independent colleges and universities in South Carolina and for our students.
Scott’s leadership was recognized by his colleagues at the NAICU board meeting who elected him to serve on the NAICU Executive Committee. For my part I was elected to the Executive Committee of the NAICU partner organization of state executives, known as NAICUSE.
I think the four major takeaways from our visits are:
- There was widespread support for federal financial aid programs. No one expressed opposition to the Pell Grant Program, nor the increase in the spending bill passed in December.
- The “Pell Plus” initiative (HR 4608) was received with interest. You’ll recall Pell Plus provides third and fourth year students who are on track to graduate in four years would be given access to the same total Pell Grant amounts that are currently made available only to those who take six years to complete, with the proviso that the school would have to match that additional grant. Greater in the third and fourth years would encourage graduating on time and obviates the need for student loans in the fifth and sixth years of study. However, because the bill spends the Pell grants faster, the Congressional Budget Office will no doubt identify a “cost” to it, which would result in resistance from fiscally conservative legislators. We endeavored to put the cost in context: we can spend the money now, when it will have the greatest impact, or later.
- We found little support for “free college” in the SC delegation. Scott and I stressed that assigning federal dollars for “free” public college, be it at the two- or four-year levels, freezes out students at private colleges, who in South Carolina make up nearly one-quarter of the undergraduate student population. We also warned that giving block grants to states, with discretion to spend the money, is no better as the South Carolina constitution prohibits the state from directly aiding private institutions.
- We learned that Senate staff have been working Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization, and a bill may pop out at any time. The House version, the “College Affordability Act,” has 139 sponsors and may reach the floor in March. However, issues like Title IX remain a stumbling block. Additionally, the determination that HEA does not sunset has removed the pressure of a deadline.
Scott and I also attended an informative, if unsettling, session on “paying” college athletes. As you are no doubt aware, California now has a law on the books that prohibits the NCAA, other conferences or California-based member schools from enforcing a rule that prevents a student-athlete from being compensated for the use of their “name, image or likeness.” The proposal also allows a student-athlete to engage an agent. The bill has an effective date of January 2023.
What concerns the NCAA is that there are a number of states with pending legislation which are of varying impact – different states with different rules would be a nightmare for the NCAA to navigate. For example, here in South Carolina, Sen. Marlon Kimpson has introduced legislation that, along with the “name, image, likeness” language, would allow student-athletes to earn hourly wages for their time in games and practices, as well as earn $5,000 for each year they participate in their sport while maintaining good academic standing. Those dollars would go into a trust and be awarded in a lump sum (capped at $25,000) after they graduate.
What should concern higher education institutions is that the various pieces of legislation do not distinguish between Divisions I, II, and III, and includes other athletic associations.
Not surprisingly, the NCAA is working with Congress on a federal solution. Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Mitt Romney (R-UT) announced the formation of a bi-partisan working group to facilitate ongoing discussions about student-athlete compensation and related issues.
Freedom of Speech –
The U.S. Department of Education has issued proposed regulations regarding both President Trump’s executive order on freedom of speech on campuses, and the executive order creating the “White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative.”
The proposed regulations would require private higher education institutions receiving certain federal research and education grants (federal student aid programs are not included) to certify they have complied with their free expression. Institutions that refuse to certify or that violate this condition would be subject to penalties for noncompliance. If an institution doesn’t receive a federal education or research grant, they won’t be subject to these requirements.
Moving forward, private higher education institutions would be deemed to remain in compliance unless there is a final, non-default court judgment finding that the institution or its employees violated the institution’s policy regarding freedom of speech or academic freedom.
Faith and Opportunity Initiative –
NAICU has provided the following summary of the elements of the proposed regulations that impact faith-based institutions ability to participate in Title III programs of the Higher Education Act:
- Ensure nondiscrimination against faith-based institutions by clarifying that such institutions are eligible to receive grants or sub-grants on the same basis as other entities;
- Remove requirements that faith-based institutions provide assurances or notices that are not required of other institutions;
- Clarify that faith-based institutions are entitled to retain their independence from the government and their ability to carry out their missions consistent with religious protections in federal law; and
- Remove language prohibiting institutions from using funds for otherwise allowable activities that relate to religious worship and theological subjects and replace it with narrower language.
The proposed regulations also provide more direction as to how institutions could demonstrate they are controlled by a religious organization, for the purpose of seeking a Title IX exemption.