Supreme Court Expected to Rule on Race-Conscious Admissions, Student Debt Forgiveness Cases
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue decisions on the use of race-conscious college admissions practices and the Biden administration’s student debt forgiveness plan in coming days. APLU last year joined other higher education organizations in an amicus brief to the Court, arguing there is considerable educational benefit to a diverse learning environment for all students and using race as a factor contributes to fostering such an environment. The Court is next scheduled to issue opinions on Thursday July 29, 2023.
APLU Submits Comment on Department of Education NPRM
APLU submitted comments on the Department of Education’s (ED) recent Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which touched on a number of topics relating to transparency, accountability, and other regulatory areas with potentially significant impact to public universities. The comment letter focuses on the impact of the financial value transparency and gainful employment provisions to public institutions, application of financial responsibility standards to public institutions, state authorization provisions and impacts to reciprocity, and state licensure reporting requirements.
APLU also joined 47 other higher education associations in submitting community comments on the NPRM The letter notes concerns with the debt-to-earnings and earnings premium metric calculations, the expanded reporting requirements for institutions, and the student debt calculations.
Additionally, APLU spearheaded a joint comment letter joined by the American Association of Community Colleges, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and the State Higher Education Officers Association to underscore the public institution concerns on new, potentially challenging financial responsibility requirements.
Congress Continues Work on FY2024 Funding Bills
In mid-June, the House Appropriations Committee passed the Agriculture bill, accompanied by the bill report, out of committee on a party-line vote. The bill’s total discretionary allocation is $25.3 billion, $532 million below the FY 2023 enacted level and roughly flat with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) FY 2022 funding level. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) would receive $1.7 billion, a decrease of $9.5 million or 0.6 percent below the FY 2023 enacted level. Most of NIFA’s programs would be flat-funded; however, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) would receive $460 million, a $5 million increase over FY 2023. The Committee does not provide FY 2024 funding for the Research Facilities Act.
Last week, the Defense and Energy and Water Development bills passed out the House Appropriations Committee. The Defense bill report notes $19.4 billion in Science and Technology funding, including $2.5 billion in basic research funding. Both accounts are down 13 percent from FY23, though the bill includes a higher level of spending for basic research than the administration’s budget request. The Energy report includes $8.1 billion for the Office of Science and $470 million for the Advanced Research Projects for Energy (ARPA-E). Both APLU priority accounts are flat-funded from FY23.
The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously passed the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies appropriations bill last week. The report funds almost all APLU priority accounts at FY23 levels, including National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) programs such as capacity funding and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). The bill does not provide funding for the Research Facilities Act. Appropriations leadership has not announced when additional bills will be considered nor when the Senate will consider the Agriculture bill on the floor.
Senate, House Republicans Unveil Higher Education Bills
Key House and Senate Republicans released legislation pertaining to student loans. With President Biden’s veto of the Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution, which would repeal the administration’s loan forgiveness plan, Republicans are increasingly likely to turn attention to the administration’s proposal for a new Income Driven Repayment (IDR) plan.
On the Senate side, a group of Republican senators, led by Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Ranking Member Bill Cassidy (R-LA), released the “Lowering Education Costs and Debt Act,” their proposed solution to addressing the cost of college and student loan debt. Included in the package are the bipartisan College Transparency Act, a priority for both Sen. Cassidy and APLU, and Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) bipartisan proposal for uniform financial aid offers. The package also includes a proposal from Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) to impose new caps on graduate Stafford loans and eliminate the Grad PLUS program, a bill from Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) to expand federal student loan disclosures and entrance counseling, and a proposal from Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) to revamp income-driven student loan repayment plans and block ED’s proposed IDR plan. A summary of the bill can be found here.
On the House side, Higher Education Subcommittee Chair Burgess Owens (R-UT), Rep. Lisa McClain (R-MI), and full committee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC) introduced the Federal Assistance to Initiate Repayment (FAIR) Act. The legislation would block ED’s IDR plan and make substantial changes to present loan repayment options. A section-by-section summary of the bill is available here.
DHS Announces HSAPC Members
The Department of Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas announced the members of the Homeland Security Academic Partnership Council (HSAPC, formerly the Homeland Security Academic Advisory Council, HSAAC). The committee includes 20 individuals from a broad range of educational representatives. The council will provide advice and recommendations to the secretary on campus safety and security, improving coordination and sharing security information, methods to develop career opportunities to support the DHS workforce, and enhancing and expanding DHS research opportunities. The council’s first public meeting is expected to be announced in the coming months.