Legislative Activity

Higher Education Act Outlook

On June 9, the National Journal hosted an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Higher Education Act (HEA). Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, spoke during the event, providing reflection on the progress made and the remaining work to be done in higher education policy. In terms of a timeline for HEA reauthorization, he hopes that he and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) will produce a bipartisan draft bill by September.

Chairman Alexander briefly described his top policy priorities for HEA reauthorization, including de-regulation (for which he and others will be introducing legislation), simplification of student aid (through the Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency (FAST) Act, which he thinks is a “good candidate” for HEA), campus sexual assault, accreditation, and the integration of technology into the higher education system. He also stated that he plans to block the implementation of the Department of Education’s proposed college ratings system and gainful employment regulations. When asked further about accreditation, Senator Alexander stated that his knowledge is “less developed” on the subject than other issues. His committee has scheduled a hearing on the subject for this Wednesday, June 17.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Wednesday, June 17: The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies will mark up its Fiscal 2016 spending bill.
  • Wednesday, June 17: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing titled “Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Evaluating Accreditation’s Role in Ensuring Quality.”

Executive Branch Activity

Skills for Success Grant Program

On June 9, the Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement published a notice in the Federal Register to announce that its Skills for Success program is now accepting applications. This year’s program encourages Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) and their partners to submit projects that implement, evaluate, and refine “tools and approaches for developing the non-cognitive skills” of students in grades 5-8, a “critical time in students’ academic trajectories” in the eyes of the Department. Examples of these tools and approaches include digital games, growth mindset classroom activities, and experiential learning opportunities. The Department expects projects to integrate the development of students’ non-cognitive skills into classroom-level activities and existing school improvement strategies, thereby building knowledge from which other LEAs and schools can benefit.

The notice described the competition’s two absolute priorities that must be addressed in applications. This year’s Skills for Success projects, which may last from 1-3 years, must:

  • build upon existing tools and approaches that encourage middle-grades students to develop their non-cognitive skills; and
  • improve academic outcomes or learning environments for high-need students.

The program encourages LEA applicants to create sustainable partnerships with nonprofit organizations, institutions of higher education, other LEAs, or some other combination of these. The Department expects these types of partnerships, which encompass a wider range of resources and expertise, could provide greater support and capacity building to projects under this program. LEAs must notify the Department that they intend to apply by June 29 and applications are due on July 29.