The most prominent news from Washington last week was President Trump signing the Executive Order intended to ensure freedom of speech and promote transparency on college campuses. Regarding freedom of speech and SCICU member institutions, the Executive Order does not seem to impose new requirements, but instead emphasizes that colleges and universities receiving federal research and education grants must comply with existing federal law.
Beyond freedom of speech the Executive Order directs the Department of Education to expand the amount of information available on its College Scorecard web site. For example, the department is directed by January 1, 2020 to publish median earning and loan debt information at the program-level (i.e. “major-by-major” level) for every certificate, associate degree, bachelor’s degree, graduate degree, and professional degree program for all federal student aid participants. The department will be able to provide such aggregate information by connecting data provided by the colleges and universities to data available to the department through social security numbers. How double-majors, students who change majors and interdisciplinary majors will be recorded remains unclear.
The Executive Budget, submitted two months late because of the federal shutdown, creates concerns regarding the funding the programs that support the most economically disadvantaged students. For example, it eliminates the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG), a federal assistance grant reserved for college students with the greatest need for financial aid to attend school, and cuts $840 million in federal funding that generates more than $1.3 billion in need-based aid.
The Executive Budget also cuts Federal Work Study by $630 million, for total funding of $500 million, and proposes the program be revamped to “support workforce and career-oriented training opportunities for low-income undergraduate students, not just subsidize employment as a means of financial aid.” It also proposes changes to the student loan program that would result in a cut in student benefits of $207 billion over 10 years.
We are also watching carefully efforts to renew the Higher Education Act, first passed in 1965 and last reauthorized in 2008. This law is the primary interface between the federal government and higher education, administering federal aid and grant programs and other federal requirements.
While Democrats and Republicans disagree on a number of important issues, for example campus safety and major-by-major federal student aid eligibility, there is potential for movement. There is common ground – both parties would like to enhance the Pell Program, and streamline the FAFSA form – and a resolve by both houses to work in a bipartisan manner. Additionally, the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) has announced his retirement and he would very much like to see a reauthorization in this, his last session.
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