NIH Director Increases Efforts to Uphold the Integrity of Biomedical Research
National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins issued a statement and sent a letter to all NIH active grantees and applicants discussing the agency’s efforts to work with other federal partners and stakeholders to protect the integrity of biomedical research from inappropriate foreign influence. As part of these efforts, Dr. Collins announced the formation of an NIH Advisory Committee to the Director Working Group on Foreign Influences on Research Integrity. Shortly after the announcement, APLU President Peter McPherson issued a statement welcoming the efforts to safeguard the security of research.
Department of Education Releases Gainful Employment NPRM
The U.S. Department of Education released its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on Gainful Employment (GE), which proposes the complete elimination of the rule. There is a 30-day comment period. Comments must be received on or before September 13th. The GE rule, which holds programs accountable for a debt/earnings ratio and requires a series of disclosures, presently applies to all for-profit programs and only non-degree programs of nonprofits and publics. A program that fails GE could lose Title IV eligibility although the accountability portion of the rule never went into effect.
While not part of the proposed rule, the Department announced that its alternative to GE is publishing program-level outcomes data, such as earnings data, on the College Scorecard or a successor site. Additionally, as part of the NPRM, the Department requested public comment on whether it should require institutions to disclose on the program pages of their websites and college catalogues; whether programs meet relevant state licensure requirements; their net-price, completion, and withdrawal rates; as well as program size and/or any other items currently required under the GE disclosure regulations. APLU has confirmed with the Department that they want public comment on whether to apply these disclosures to all programs, not just those presently a part of GE.
APLU released a statement upon release of the pre-publication version of the rule expressing deep concern with the complete elimination of GE, noting that the rule is targeted to address the greatest risks to taxpayers and students within higher education.
The GE NPRM is the latest in a flurry of rulemaking activity by the Department of Education. The Department also recently released its NPRM on Borrower Defense to Repayment (more information below) as well as an Intent to Establish Negotiated Rulemaking on a sweeping array of issues. The Department of Education’s proposed rule on Title IX has been sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget and is pending.
Higher Ed Associations Submit Comments on BDR NPRM
APLU worked with the American Council on Education (ACE) and the broader higher education community to develop and submit comments in response to the Department of Education’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on Borrower Defense to Repayment (BDR). BDR provides an opportunity for borrowers to seek loan forgiveness of direct loans from the Department of Education in cases of institutional wrongdoing such as misrepresentations or fraud. In the aftermath of Corinthian Colleges’ collapse, the Obama administration made significant changes to BDR to provide an expanded path for borrowers to seek and obtain relief. APLU filed detailed comments to the 2016 proposed rule, which included some concerns about ensuring a fair process for institutions to respond to claims. The proposed rule by the Trump administration would take BDR in a very different direction. The comment letter by the higher education community details a number of concerns with the proposed rule, which cumulatively would render it nearly impossible for students to meet the standards for loan relief.
President Trump Nominates Robert King for Higher Ed Position
President Trump announced his intent to nominate Robert King to be Assistant Secretary of Postsecondary Education at the Department of Education. King currently serves as president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education and was previously President and CEO of the Arizona Community Foundation and Chancellor of the State University of New York (SUNY) System.
On a vote of 85-7, the Senate approved the FY2019 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education (LHHS-ED) and Defense “minibus” appropriations package, H.R. 6157. The House of Representatives has passed its FY2019 Defense Appropriations bill but has not yet brought the FY2019 LHHS-ED bill to the House floor. Despite this, lawmakers have decided to move forward with conferencing the House and Senate proposals of both bills in an effort to make progress before government funding expires on September 30. Items of interest in the Senate-passed package are highlighted below.
Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Funding
The bill would fund the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at $39.084 billion, a $2 billion increase from FY2018 enacted levels. The House bill would fund the agency with a smaller increase at $38.334 billion. Both the Senate and House bills stand in contrast to the President’s Budget Request (PBR), which would fund the agency at $34.767 billion.
The Senate’s NIH funding level is inclusive of the full $711 million of Innovation Fund support, authorized by the 21st Century Cures Act. Furthermore, the committee included language rejecting the president’s proposal to create three new Institutes at the NIH. The Senate bill includes language to keep the extramural salary cap at Executive Level II, while the PBR proposed to lower the cap to Executive Level V. Also included in the bill is a provision instructing administration officials to continue support for facilities and administrative (F&A) costs.
Title VII and Title VIII programs at the Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA) would receive $643 million, $3 million less than FY2018 funding, $29 million above the House proposal, and $555 million above the PBR.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) would be level-funded at $334 million, which is also equal to the House proposal. While the PBR proposes consolidation of AHRQ into the NIH, the committee report includes language that states, “The Committee does not support the administration’s proposal to consolidate AHRQ into the NIH and instead continues to fund the agency as an independent operating division within the Department.”
Additionally, the bill would provide $22.475 billion for the Pell Grant program at the Department of Education, level with FY2018 enacted, the PBR and House proposal. The bill would increase the maximum Pell Grant award to $6,195, $100 more than the maximum FY2018 award, and $100 more than the House proposal. Also included in the Senate bill is a $600 million rescission to the Pell Grant surplus.
The Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GANN) would be funded at $23 million, level with FY2018 and House proposal. The PBR would cut the program. The Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) would be funded at $840 million, same as FY2018 and the House bill. The PBR proposes eliminating the program. Federal Work Study would receive $1.130 billion, level with FY2018 and the House proposal, and $630 million above the PBR. While the PBR would reduce TRIO programs funding to $950 million, the Senate proposal would provide $1.010 billion, level with FY2018 funding. The House proposal would fund TRIO programs at $1.060 billion. The Senate bill would provide $350 million for GEAR UP programs, equal to FY2018 enacted and $10 million less than the House bill. The PBR proposes to eliminate the program. The Institute of Education Sciences would receive $615 million, $2 million above FY2018 and the House proposal, and $93 million more than the PBR. While the PBR zeros out Title VI International Education Programs, the bill proposes $72 million, level with FY2018 funding and the House proposal.
The report accompanying the Senate bill includes additional language pertaining to national security, including language that urges the NIH to secure intellectual property and develop a public list of Confucius Institutes that have received NIH funding since 2013. The report also directs the Department of Education to provide to the House and Senate Appropriation Committees reports on foreign gifts disclosure and data on the prevalence of Confucius Institutes in such reports.
LHHS-ED Amendments of Interest
Among the amendments included in the Senate bill was an amendment by Senators Dean Heller (R-NV) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) that would direct the Secretary of Education to report to Congress on the Department of Education’s coordination with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and National Science Foundation (NSF) to promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs that benefit students in grades pre-kindergarten through 12. Another amendment by Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) would transfer money to the Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Inspector General to ensure the integrity of National Institutes of Health grant application evaluation and selection processes. An amendment by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), which directs the HHS Secretary to submit a report to Congress detailing Medicare or Medicaid payments to entities in the People’s Republic of China or the Russian Federation, was also included in the manager’s package.
The bill would fund the Department of Defense (DoD) Science and Technology accounts (6.1-6.3) at $15.4 billion, $993 million above the House proposal, $1.77 billion above the PBR, and $563 million above FY2018 enacted. The bill would also provide $2.8 billion for DoD Basic Research (6.1), $500 million above the House bill, $529 million more than the PBR, and $455 million above FY2018 enacted. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) would receive $3.4 billion, a $57 million increase above the House proposal, $8 million above the PBR, and a $375 million increase from FY2018.
Higher Ed Associations Support Bipartisan SUCCESS Act
APLU along with the Association of American Medical Colleges, Association of American Universities, Association of University Technology Managers, and Council on Governmental Relations released a statement applauding the introduction of the bipartisan Study of Underrepresented Classes Chasing Engineering and Science Success Act, or the “SUCCESS” Act, H.R. 6390. The bill would direct the Small Business Administration to carry out a study, in consultation with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, identifying best practices for addressing the race, gender, and income gaps in patenting rates for small businesses.
House to Consider Student Financial Counseling Bill
The “Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act,” H.R. 1635 will be on the House floor for consideration today. The House previously passed the bill in 2016 by voice vote under suspension of the rules. At the time, the House took up a series of higher education related bills. Higher education associations provided a letter during consideration by the House Education & Workforce Committee.
APLU has heard from a number of institutions with concerns, such as whether the additional burdens would fall on institutions rather than the Department of Education and whether annual counseling of students who are just receiving Pell Grants is necessary. Some campuses are worried about the logistics of counseling for Parent Plus Loan recipients. Relative to Pell Grant recipients, some financial aid directors have expressed concern that adding an additional hurdle for these students to receive financial aid would further impede their access to higher education.
APLU supports the intent of the bill in ensuring students are better informed of financial obligations they make including the specific terms of federal financial aid. However, we want to work with Congress to improve the legislation before it is finalized.
APLU Joins Net Neutrality Amicus Brief
APLU joined 19 other higher education and library associations on an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The brief, organized by the American Council on Education, is in support of Mozilla Corporation in the net neutrality case Mozilla Corporation v. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the United States of America. The brief argues that the Restoring Internet Freedom Order by the FCC will have a negative impact on universities and libraries across the United States.