Sausage Making in 2020
The main ingredients in crafting current higher ed legislation include financial aid,minority-serving institutions, Higher Ed Act reauthorization, and Title IX.
Drafting, marking up, and passing legislation has been been likened to the making of sausage, something best appreciated once in its final state, and something most people would never want to watch being made. Fortunately, most trustees understand that knowing what goes on in the sausage factory is the only way to make sure the proverbial sausage tastes how they want it to taste when it’s served up to Congress. Today’s ingredients relate to minority-serving institutions, financial aid applications, the Higher Education Act and the roles and responsibilities of colleges with respect to sexual harassment and assaults.
New FUTURE for HBCUs, MSIs, and Tribal Colleges
In late 2019, Congress passed legislation, the FUTURE Act, to provide mandatory funding for grants to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) and Tribal Colleges under Part F of Title III of the Higher Education Act. The legislation was later signed into law by President Trump. The previous version of the bill was held up due to disagreements about its funding mechanism. However, Senate and House Congressional leaders ultimately agreed upon a funding source, which paved the way to passage. The final agreement showed how negotiation and compromise can lead to enacted legislation that will help college students.
IRS and the FASFA
The FUTURE Act also included provisions to streamline the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) process. The Internal Revenue Service will now share income data with the Department of Education directly so that income data is imported over to the FAFSA form, as opposed to accessing the information from the IRS and then manually inputting the information. The FUTURE Act also eliminated more than 20 questions on the FAFSA.
Access to and transferring of income data has been a cause of many barriersfor FAFSA completion. If chosen for verification, FASFA filers will still need to undertake that process, but the hope is that direct access to income data will decrease the percentage of students chosen for verification. Verification is a major problem for community college FAFSA filers, but even this modification won’t eliminate it. Many community colleges have stated that roughly half of their Pell Grant students are initially chosen for verification.
Hope for Passing HEA in 2020?
The next big question is whether Congress will undertake the process to finally pass the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), which has been pending since 2014. The House Education & Labor Committee passed is its HEA reauthorization (H.R. 4674, the College Affordability Act) on a partisan vote. But the bill has not come to the House floor for consideration. Meanwhile, the leaders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee continue to negotiate on a bipartisan HEA bill.
As time winds down on the 116th Congress and the looming retirement of HELP Committee Chair Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), time is growing short for consideration and passage this year. As the calendar gets closer to the general elections, Congress tends to focus only on must-have pieces of legislation, which includes appropriations bills, among others.
Within HEA, there is bipartisan support for several provisions, including further streamlining the FAFSA, increasing the Pell Grant maximum, allowing short-term programs to access Pell Grants, allowing incarcerated individuals to access Pell Grants, and streamlining the loan repayment options. But can Congress overcome the large hurdles that remain? There are strong disagreements about college accountability provisions (including risk sharing) and special measures concerning proprietary institutions.
Negotiating Title IX Rules
One issue that continues to stymie negotiations involves Title IX and the role of colleges in addressing sexual assault and harassment. The Department of Education is slated to release final rules regarding Title IX early this year. In its proposed rules, the department outlined a formal legal procedure to adjudicate complaints, including live hearings and direct cross examination of the accuser. Congress will likely need to look at the final rule and provide a legislative pathway on this critical issue. But it is unclear whether there is common ground among lawmakers.
When Congress moves on HEA reauthorization, we will need everyone’s advocacy to ensure the bill supports the community college mission. ACCT has a wealth of resources available to understand HEA’s role and impact at community colleges. Visit ACCT’s website, www.acct.org/advocacy, to get additional information.
Make your voice heard by visiting your member of Congress and talking about these key issues. Request a meeting on campus with your legislator and talk about the pressing issues important to your institution. To stay up to date on key legislative items, sign up for ACCT’s Latest Action in Washington alerts by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.