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Monday, 7 Jul 2008

HEA Reauthorization Set for July
The final HEA reauthorization is set to be voted on sometime this month. The act has been extended one more time – through July 31 – to give those working on the reauthorization time to finalize it. The president is expected to sign it.

Education Spending Bill (FY 2009 Labor-HHS-Education)
The full Senate appropriations committee approved the FY 2009 Labor-HHS-Education bill, which includes the president’s request for the Pell Grant program – a $2.7 billion increase in funding. The House appropriations committee did not approve the bill due to a controversial Republican amendment that was offered – there is no set date for another committee meeting at this time.

Congress Plans to Rewrite the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
It has been reported that Congress plans to rewrite the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) this summer since legislators see the need for clarification in a number of areas due to conflicting court opinions on congressional intent and interpretations of who is protected under ADA law. The greatest area of scrutiny would be the definition of a disability.

As the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) reports “in response to court cases narrowing the definition and raising the standard for qualifying as disabled, the new law would create a class of protected individuals aligned with the approach of other civil rights statutes.”

The House has recently passed the Americans with Disabilities Restoration Act of 2007 (H.R. 3195) with strong bipartisan support to clarify the language of disability. The next step is for the Senate to vote on its version of the bill, S. 1881.

SEVIS Overhaul Scheduled by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
The Department of Homeland Security has announced its plans to overhaul the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). It is reported that SEVIS II, targeted to begin in September of 2009, will “increase the accuracy and reliability of data, improve the security of the system, and enhance the ability to share information with other federal agencies that monitor foreign visitors.”

Tuesday, 10 Jun 2008

The newly-passed emergency legislation (H.R. 5715 “Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act of 2008) has averted a crisis in the student loan industry, at least for the time being. Several large lenders, including Sallie Mae, have announced that they would stay in the program.

On May 21, the Treasury Secretary and Department of Education Secretary issued a letter outlining their plan to make sure students can access federal loans in the upcoming year. This plan includes: a commitment to purchase new loans from FFELP lenders at a price that will ensure they recoup their investment; a commitment to continue working with lenders to re-engage capital markets; strengthening the lender-of-last resort program; and increasing direct loan capacity.

The HEA reauthorization has taken an unexpected turn since the announcement of Senator Kennedy’s illness. The National Independent College and University Association (NAICU) stated that the bill “is shaping up as a reasonable compromise.”



Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Last month the U.S. House of Representatives approved emergency legislation aimed at averting a crisis in student lending. As students gear up to attend college in the fall, the bill attempts to reassure them that the federal government will help if private lenders continue to leave the student-loan program.

For several weeks now, dozens of private lenders have announced they will no longer participate in the government-backed loan program. Through this program, the government uses subsidies and repayment guarantees to encourage lenders to offer loans to students at below-market rates. Last September Congress voted to cut about $20 billion from these subsidies – and lenders blame this move, along with the credit crunch and mortgage crisis – for driving up their costs and making participation in the program less affordable.

The student loan bailout bill would (among other provisions):

• Allow the secretary of education to purchase loan portfolios that lenders have struggled to sell to investors;
• Ease the process of applying for a student loan and allow the secretary to identify “lenders of last resort;” and
• Raise the limits on the amount undergraduate students can borrow in federal loans, which will reduce the borrower’s dependence on other private and usually costlier loans.

The bill was passed by the Senate and is expected to be signed into law this week by President Bush.

Becky H. Timmons, assistant vice president for government relations at the American Council on Education said “If enough people buy umbrellas, we might be able to ward off a storm.”

Given that the bill has now gone to the president, Congress will turn its attention to the conference committee working to negotiate the final version of the Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization. In the meantime the Senate voted just last week to extend the act through May 31.

In other news…..

• Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.) and other supporters of better educational opportunities for veterans are pushing for more generous benefits under the GI Bill. The prospect for enactment is unclear at this time because of its substantial price tag.
• The Department of Education has issued a number of proposed regulations governing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) in the areas of disclosures in health and safety emergencies.
• The proposed regulations would also prohibit the disclosure or confirmation of a student’s directory information without the student’s prior written consent if a SSN or other non-directory information is used to identify the student.
• The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has released a proposal that would increase the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fees by up to $200 per application. The fees would help to financially support SEVIS, and would apply to international student visa holders (F,J, or M visas.)

Monday, 21 Apr 2008

The 2008 session of the Maryland General Assembly ended at midnight on April 8. Here is a brief overview of the most important issues for independent higher education (as provided by MICUA):

• The FY 2009 operating budget includes $58.7 million for the Sellinger Program – an increase of four percent in the per-student appropriation and an adjustment for enrollment growth.

• The budget also includes $1.65 million for the Regional Higher Education Centers to provide funds to the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) to distribute for the basic operations of the centers and to provide incentive funds to encourage the development of new programs in areas of high-need.

• It also includes $3.6 million for BRAC initiatives to support academic programs that serve the military installations.

• The FY 2009 budget includes $109 million for student financial aid, a five percent increase over last year’s appropriation.

• The FY 2009 state capital budget includes $9 million for four MICUA member institutions (John Hopkins, Mount St. Mary’s, Loyola College, and Sojourner-Douglass College) – a $1 million increase over the Governor’s budget.

Summary of legislation that may impact independent colleges:
• House Bill 40 – requires employers to provide leave with pay for the illness of an employee's immediate family. The bill provides that an employee may only use leave with pay that has been earned.

• House Bill 133 – extends the work of the Commission to Develop the Maryland Model for Funding Higher Education. The bill also adds the Lt. Governor to the Commission's membership.

• House Bill 358 – requires the Department of Budget and Management to develop a searchable website that includes information on state financial assistance or expenditures in excess of $25,000 including all grants, loans, awards, and contracts.

• Several environmental bills passed, including bills to authorize grants, loans, and tax credits for projects to promote energy conservation and reduce the consumption of fossil fuels.

• House Bill 905 and Senate Bill 438 – these bills require public institutions of higher education in Maryland to develop and implement plans for programs of cultural diversity and require the independent institutions that receive funds under the Sellinger Program to submit certain information to MICUA. MICUA must submit a report to the Maryland Higher Education Commission on the efforts of the independent colleges and universities to promote and enhance cultural diversity.

• House Bill 942 – requires the colleges of medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and dentistry to submit a one-time report to the legislative committees and the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities on courses that have been developed regarding cultural competency and health disparities.

• House Bill 1210 – prohibits credit card issuers from offering gifts in exchange for the completion of a credit card application at a college or university (including at athletic events).

• House Bill 1287 – establishes a student internship program to encourage students to explore opportunities in public service.

Thursday, 20 Mar 2008

Earlier this month, the Senate extended the Higher Education Act (HEA) through April 30, which will give lawmakers more time to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions of the reauthorization measure. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass) said that they will not reach an agreement before the start of the spring recess. The current extension expires at the end of March.

The law has not been fully renewed since 1998.

Thursday, 31 Jan 2008

Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act

The second session of the 110th Congress began recently and it appears as if the House will be bringing up its version of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act sometime during the week of February 4.

These are the issues that independent colleges and universities are most concerned about in the House’s version of the bill:

College Cost – the bill would establish the Higher Education Price Index and would create a federal Price Increase Watch List for any college whose sticker price exceeds a federally-prescribed pricing index.

The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) reports that it is unlikely any modifications will change this provision of the bill.

Accreditation and Student Learning Outcomes – the bill’s language mirrored the language in the Senate bill with colleges setting their own standards for student learning. This protective language was eliminated in the House bill at the request of certain accreditors.

NAICU reports that the accreditors, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), and the higher education associations have agreed on compromise language that, hopefully, will be included in the final House bill.

Teacher Education – the bill would require all colleges in the country to follow several federally-prescribed curriculum elements. This would create a precedent of using a college’s participation in federal student aid programs as a means of prescribing a curriculum in a particular field of study.

NAICU reports that this is driven by No Child Left Behind concerns on accountability and that key members of the House may accept softer language – but not do away with the federal mandate.

Articulation Agreements – the bill would call for the development of statewide articulation agreements and it is unclear if all institutions would be required to participate in them.

NAICU reports that they have been told that the House bill will be modified to include clarifying language acceptable to independent colleges and universities.

Reporting – the bill would add numerous new reporting requirements that would be very costly to colleges. It was recently reported in the Chronicle that one reason the bill contains so many new requirements is that “the renewal of the Higher Education Act is five years overdue. As a result, there is a built-up demand for more reporting and record-keeping.”

NAICU reports that there is “no relief in sight.” The new reporting requirements being proposed are important to the members who developed them and the burden on institutions is simply not a priority.

Last Dollar – the bill would require GEAR UP and three other new federal scholarship programs to be the last grants given in a student’s financial aid package. This means institutional aid will be packaged before these additional dollars are awarded. Not only does this complicate the packaging, but it also allows federal program reviewers to oversee how a college awards its own aid.

NAICU reports that these concerns are being heard and should be addressed in the final House bill.

Other News

Sen. Max S. Baucus (D-MT) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) who are Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee have sent a detailed letter to 136 institutions requesting information about their endowment spending, financial aid policies, and tuition increases over the past decade. This came about when an annual report was released that showed in FY 2007, college endowments enjoyed their biggest investment gains in nearly a decade.

Friday, 4 Jan 2008

Just before the holidays, and after a veto of the education appropriations bill by President Bush and two omnibus bills that never moved, Congress finally passed H.R. 2764, the FY 2008 omnibus appropriations bill on December 19.

Congress had to cut $22 billion from its preferred spending level in order to move the bill and ensure that President Bush would sign it. To meet this goal, the bill makes a 1.7 percent across-the-board cut, which is applied to all programs and projects except for the Pell Grant program. The Pell Grant program is funded at $14.215 billion and with the funding from reconciliation, the total maximum grant increases to $4,731 – a new high.

Other student aid programs were cut and the funding levels are below:

SEOG (Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant) – $757.465 million
FWS (Federal Work Study) – $980.492 million
Perkins Cancellations – $64.327 million
LEAP – $63.852 million
TRIO – $828.178 million
GEAR UP – $303.423 million
Javits (Fellowship Program for study of the arts, humanities, and social sciences) – $9.530 million
GAANN (Graduate Assistance In Areas of National Need) – $29.542 million

These cuts signify level funding for TRIO and GEAR UP, a slight increase for FWS, and funding levels below last year for SEOG, Perkins, LEAP, and the graduate programs.

The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) will be considered on the House floor sometime this month. The slowdown in floor consideration will, hopefully, mean further improvements to the bill for independent colleges and universities.

Unfortunately, Congress failed to renew the IRA charitable rollover and tuition deduction tax benefits which expired on December 31. According to House and Senate staff, the expiring provisions will be extended and made retroactive to January 1.

The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) has reported that colleges and accreditors have recently reached a compromise on language to propose to Congress. Representatives of both groups will now try to convince Congress to amend the House HEA reauthorization bill to include the compromise language.

Friday, 30 Nov 2007

On November 13, President Bush vetoed the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill (H.R. 3043) because of overall concerns with spending levels. The bill would have provided the biggest increase ever in the Pell Grant.

On November 15, the House Education Committee released and approved a 747-page rewrite of higher education laws (which grew to 805 pages in the process.) It is possible that the bill could come up for final consideration on the House floor as early as next week.

According to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), below are the particularly troublesome provisions of the bill:

College Cost
The bill establishes a new Higher Education Price Index, and creates a federal Affordability Watch List for any college whose sticker price exceeds a federally prescribed price index.

Accreditation and Student Learning OutcomesAlthough the House bill (like the Senate) originally sided firmly with colleges on their authority to set their own standards for student learning, this issue was revisited when the committee adopted an amendment striking the protective language. Apparently, the for-profit and some regional accreditors felt there was some better alternative – despite the fact that months of discussion of the issue did not produce one. Now, the Secretary has yet another opportunity to put the federal government in the driver’s seat in this critical area.

Teacher Education
The bill requires virtually all colleges in the country to follow several federally-prescribed curriculum elements – including quantifiable goals in the production of teachers in certain fields, and in the program of study used by the college. This precedent of using a college’s participation in the federal student aid programs as a means of prescribing a curriculum in any field of study is extremely problematic.

Articulation Agreements
The bill calls for the development of statewide articulation agreements, using language that is unclear as to whether all institutions would be required to participate in these agreements. Many private institutions participate in voluntary articulation agreements. However, NAICU strongly oppose any federal effort to make colleges – particularly private colleges – subject to such agreements developed by the Secretary of Education and state governments.

Reporting
Ironically, while admonishing colleges for rising prices, this bill adds a significant number of costly reporting requirements – with no federal money to offset the expenses of these mandates. Extensive new reporting requirements are required in such areas as campus crime, campus emergency procedures, fire safety, missing students, textbooks, net price reporting in admission materials, file sharing, distance education, and receipt of gifts.

Last Dollar
The bill requires GEAR UP and three other new federal scholarship programs to be the last grants made in a student’s financial aid package. This means that institutional aid must be packaged before these additional dollars are awarded, complicating financial aid packaging. It also means federal program reviewers can oversee how a college is awarding its own aid.

NAICU said the bill does have many good components that include a thoughtful set of new disclosures and ethics rules in response to the recent student loan scandals and a sensible solution on the transfer of credit issue that provides students information on institution’s policies.

Thursday, 29 Nov 2007

The Maryland Independent College and University Association (MICUA) provided the following summary of the Maryland General Assembly’s special session which adjourned on November 19, 2007.

The Maryland General Assembly passed the six bills introduced by the Governor with many amendments.

In aggregate, legislation passed during the Special Session raises about $1.3 billion in revenues and cuts the fiscal 2009 budget by about $550 million. The Budget Reconciliation Act reduces state appropriations in fiscal 2009 in four areas:

• Cuts state aid to local schools by altering the Thornton formula;
• Reduces utility grants provided to local jurisdictions;
• Reduces appropriations to Program Open Space; and
• Cuts overpayments to the Health Benefits Fund for state employees.

These specified cuts total about $330 million. In addition, Governor O’Malley must identify $212 million in additional cuts in the fiscal 2009 budget. The Sellinger Program is preserved with full funding. In addition, the General Assembly passed a provision within the Budget Reconciliation Act stating that funds appropriated to the public universities through the newly created Higher Education Investment Fund will be included in the formula used to calculate Sellinger grants. This provision will increase state aid under the Sellinger Program in future fiscal years.

The Budget Reconciliation Act contains a troubling provision stating the legislature's intent that the Governor consider legislation to "defer and alter formula mandates to slow the growth" in the state's baseline budget. This provision was added as a concession to the House Appropriations Committee, which tried to alter several mandated programs (including Sellinger) during the Special Session.

The General Assembly passed legislation proposing a constitutional amendment to authorize video lottery terminals (slots) at five locations in Maryland. This constitutional amendment will go to the voters during the General Election in 2008.

Several adjustments were made to the State's tax structure. The following is a summary of the major adjustments:

Income Tax:
The state income tax rate is increased to 5% for earnings over $150,000 (individuals) and $200,000 (joint filers); 5.25% for earnings over $300,000 (individuals) and $350,000 (joint filers); and at 5.5% for earnings over $500,000. In addition, the legislation includes an increase in personal exemption amounts and expands the refundable earned income tax credit for low-income Marylanders.

Sales Tax:
The sales tax rate increases from 5% to 6% and is expanded to include certain computer services, such as software planning and design, hardware and software installation, data recovery, and management services.

Titling Tax:
The titling tax rate is increased to 6%, but allows a reduction for the trade-in value of a vehicle. In addition, the vehicle title fee is increased from $23 to $50 and the cost to correct title certificates is increased from $20 to $50.

Tobacco Tax:
The tobacco tax is increased by $1.00 to $2.00 per pack.

Corporate Tax:
The corporate tax rate is increased from 7% to 8.25%. In the first six months (FY 2008), $16 million of this corporate tax revenue is dedicated to the Higher Education Investment Fund to reduce tuition at public universities and for capital projects at public universities and community colleges. In future years, about half of the increased corporate revenue is dedicated to the Higher Education Investment Fund. The Department of Legislative Services estimates that $50 million in corporate tax revenues will be dedicated to the Higher Education Investment Fund in FY 2009. These provisions will benefit the MICUA state-aided institutions by increasing the Sellinger grants in future years and by providing some relief in the Governor's capital budget program.

In addition, the General Assembly passed legislation requiring a study to evaluate the use of "combined reporting" to calculate Maryland taxable income by affiliated corporations.

Controlling Interest Provisions:
The General Assembly passed legislation imposing recordation and transfer taxes on the transfer of real property through the sale of a "controlling interest" beginning in FY 2009.

The General Assembly also passed legislation introduced by the Governor to expand Medicaid health care coverage for low-income Marylanders and to provide incentives for small businesses to offer health care insurance to employees. In addition, the General Assembly passed a provision to create a Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund to support programs to clean up Maryland's bays and rivers.


Tuesday, 2 Oct 2007

Constitution Day Celebrated at Goucher College

In 2005, Congress passed legislation mandating educational institutions receiving federal funds to hold an educational program relating to the U.S. Constitution on September 17, the date it was signed in 1787.

This year, Goucher College hosted a luncheon program for students, faculty, and staff with State Senator Richard Madaleno, a Democrat who represents Montgomery County in the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis. Senator Madaleno, a graduate of Syracuse University, is a member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. A community activist, he has fought against discrimination of all forms in employment and housing. Senator Madaleno spoke about the Maryland Constitution, the major issues facing the state at this time, and the role of the General Assembly in dealing with them.

Goucher’s Constitution Day programs have been a notable success in the past two years, when our guests were former United States Senator Paul Sarbanes and former Maryland Secretary of State Mary D. Kane.

Goucher Joins U-CAN Network

Congress and the U.S. Department of Education have been calling for more consumer information about colleges that the public can easily access.

Goucher College has joined more than 500 other higher education institutions to support the University and College Accountability Network (U-CAN), which was developed by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU). U-CAN is a new Web-based project to provide free, comprehensive information to prospective students and their families.

Each participating institution provides data and narrative information regarding admissions, enrollment, academics, student demographics, graduation rates, faculty information, tuition and fees trends, financial aid, housing, student life, and campus safety.

According to NAICU, since U-CAN's launch on September 26, it has received thousands of visits. NAICU expects traffic to the U-CAN site to continue building in the weeks ahead through their marketing efforts on Google, YouTube, FaceBook, MySpace, and other online media. They have also promoted this project through a nationwide series of radio interviews with college presidents, direct mailings to college and high school counselors, and a variety of other ways.

For more information on U-CAN or to view Goucher’s profile, visit http://www.ucan-network.org.