Legislative Activity

Legislation to Help Homeless Students

Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) plan to introduce legislation that will assist homeless students that are looking for financial aid to attend college. In the bill, colleges would be required to develop a plan to assist homeless and foster youth during academic terms, as well as give those students in-state tuition and priority for Work-Study jobs. The legislation would also require the Federal TRIO Programs and the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) to recruit homeless students. While it is unlikely that Congress will act on individual bills that pertain to higher education policy, this bill highlights the Senators’ priorities that may come up again as Congress considers reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Affordable College Costs Empower Students Act

In December, Sens. Christopher Murphy (D-CT) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) will introduce the Affordable College Costs Empower Students Act of 2013 (ACCESS). ACCESS would create a new evidence-based competitive pilot program with the intent of encouraging colleges and universities to develop programs that lower costs and reduce the time for completing a degree through programs such as online courses, competency-based degrees, dual-enrollment programs, and accelerated degrees.

The legislation also would grant colleges and universities broad authority to experiment with these alternative learning programs to provide greater flexibility in implementing these initiatives. Currently, the Department of Education requires schools to receive waivers from federal standards on a case-by-case basis to implement such programs, or else these colleges and universities’ eligibility to receive federal student aid is jeopardized. The legislation also would require rigorous evaluations of these programs to ensure they are yielding high student outcomes.

For the accountability component, the legislation would establish a commission of students, education experts, and stakeholders to recommend minimum standards (focused on affordability, access by low- and middle-income students, and value) for schools to meet in order to receive federal student aid funding.  Those schools that do not meet the recommended standards would then be required to return portions of their federal student aid funding received and possibly lose eligibility. This approach to accountability parallels that of the administration’s college ratings system proposal.

Regulatory Activity

Youth CareerConnect Program

Last week, the Obama Administration announced a new major competitive grant to overhaul career and technical education. The program, Youth CareerConnect, is modeled on Race to the Top and is designed to encourage America’s school districts, institutions of higher education, the workforce investment system, and their partners to scale up evidence-based high school models that will transform the high school experience for America’s youth. The Department of Labor will use up to $100 million in revenues from H-1B visas to fund 25 to 40 grants for individual or multi-site projects.  President Obama’s main priorities for schools in the program are:

  • Encouraging schools to combine academic and career-focused learning into the curriculum;
  • Giving students on-the-job work experience and other workplace learning opportunities;
  • Connecting schools with private companies for mentoring students and guiding schools;
  • Providing career and academic counseling for students; and
  • Integrating high school and post-secondary learning at career and technical schools.

The deadline for applications is 4:00 p.m. on January 27, 2014.

Race to the Top – District Finalists

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced the finalists for the Race to the Top – District grant competition. The Department will provide close to $120 million to support locally developed plans to personalize and improve student learning, directly increase student achievement and educator effectiveness, close achievement gaps, and prepare every student for success in college and careers. They received over 200 applications and selected 31 finalists, representing 80 school districts across 21 states. The Department expects to select 5-10 winning applications from the 2013 Race to the Top-District competition for four-year awards, which will range from $4 million to $30 million, depending on the population of students served through the plan. Awards will be announced no later than December 31, 2013.

Rulemaking for Federal Student Aid Programs

On Wednesday, November 20 the U.S. Department of Education published a notice in the Federal Register announcing its intent to establish a negotiated rulemaking committee to prepare regulations on program integrity in federal student aid. The committee will include representatives of organizations that would be significantly affected by such regulations, and individuals must have expertise or experience in the subject to be negotiated. Nominations for the committee will be due by December 20, 2013. Meeting dates have already been established for February 19-21, March 26-28, and April 23-25, 2014. The topics the committee will tentatively address are:

  • Cash management of funds provided under the title IV Federal Student Aid programs, including the use of debit cards and the handling of title IV credit balances;
  • State authorization for programs offered through distance education or correspondence education;
  • State authorization for foreign locations of institutions located in a State.
  • Clock to credit hour conversion;
  • The definition of “adverse credit” for borrowers in the Federal Direct PLUS Loan Program;  and
  • The application of the repeat coursework provisions to graduate and undergraduate programs..

Experimental Sites

As early as this week, the Department of Education will request feedback from stakeholders on how the department can work with colleges and universities interested in experimenting with alternative learning programs such as competency-based learning. As discussed previously, the Department of Education currently requires schools to apply for waivers from the federal standards to implement such learning programs in order to maintain their eligibility for receiving federal student aid.

Gainful Employment Regulations

The negotiated rulemaking committee on gainful employment did not reach a consensus during its final meeting last week. Therefore, negotiators will hold another session for at least one day in mid-December.