Update on Legislation to Boost U.S. Competitiveness
Last week, House and Senate lawmakers met for the inaugural session of a conference committee to iron out differences between House- and Senate-passed bills aimed at boosting U.S. competitiveness. At the meeting the members of the conference committee took turns staking out their policy priorities for a final agreement.
Prior to the conference committee meeting, APLU sent an updated letter to congressional leaders and members of the conference committee outlining our policy priorities and urging Congress to add $10 billion in supplemental funding for the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. APLU’s president Peter McPherson also published an op-ed in Forbes supporting this supplemental funding.
White House and congressional leadership hope to have an agreement by early summer. This timeline may be ambitious as the House and Senate competitiveness bills cover a wide range of issues, including science policy, research security, immigration, short-term Pell and the College Transparency Act, trade, tariffs, U.S. semiconductor manufacturing incentives, and climate change.
ED to Update Sec. 504 Regulations Impacting Students with Disabilities
On May 6, the Department of Education (ED) announced that it will begin a process to update Section 504 regulations for students with disabilities. This coincides with the 45th Anniversary of the publication of the regulations implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
ED will publish a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register in the weeks to come. In addition to soliciting written suggestions from members of the public, ED will also host listening sessions to allow stakeholders to share with staff suggestions for what could be improved and what should not be changed. For more details, see the following press release from ED.
USCIS Increases Automatic Extension Period of Work Permits for Certain Applicants
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a Temporary Final Rule (TFR) that increases the automatic extension period for employment authorization and Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) from 180 days to 540 days for most EAD renewal applicants, effective May 4, 2022 through October 15, 2025. The action is taken to help alleviate work authorization processing backlogs affecting many individuals employed by APLU institutions, such as applicants for both green cards and asylum, spouses for H-1B visa holders, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients. The extension will help prevent renewal applicants from experiencing a lapse in employment authorization/documentation while their application waits for review and USCIS works to reduce the processing backlog and return to normal processing times.
GAO Releases Anticipated Report on Institution Partnerships with Online Program Managers (OPMs)
Last Thursday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a long-anticipated study of the arrangements many colleges and universities have entered with online program managers, or OPMs. The GAO report highlights the risk OPMs pose for predatory recruiting practices and recommends that: 1) auditors specifically ask institutions about OPM contracts and terms for compensation and 2) provide guidance to colleges clarifying their responsibility to identify all OPM contracts that include recruiting and provide auditors and ED staff with copies of those contracts.
For background, the GAO report notes that about 90 percent of institutions with OPM arrangements are public or non-profit colleges. OPMs commonly recruit students for colleges, which make these arrangements subject to ED oversight and the incentive compensation ban within the Higher Education Act, created to prevent abusive recruiting practices. The incentive compensation ban specifically prohibits the use of incentive payments, such as commissions or bonuses, to individuals or third parties engaged in student recruiting based on their success in enrolling students.
As this article last week in Inside Higher Ed highlights, the GAO report notably did not call into question ED’s 2011 guidance which created an exception to the use of incentive compensation for third party vendors engaged in recruiting activities, if recruitment is part of “bundled services” offered by the vendor.
Congressional Democrats, including Senate HELP Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) and House Ed & Labor Chair Bobby Scott, continue to express concern about institution contracts with OPMs that include recruiting. ED also indicated in its response to the GAO that it is considering revising the federal guidance on incentive compensation to “strengthen” its ability to identify possible violations, potentially revisiting previous guidance that created the so-called “bundled services” exception.