Passage of legislation by Congress and enactment into law when signed by the President of the United States are events that attract considerable attention in the media. Equally important in the life of any legislation is what eventually occurs in the regulatory arena. On August 14 of this year, the Secretary of the Department of Education proposed to rescind the gainful employment (GE) regulations, which added to the Student Assistance General Provisions requirements for programs that prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation. The Department plans to update the College Scorecard, or a similar web-based tool, to provide program-level outcomes for all higher education programs at all institutions that participate in the programs authorized by Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which would improve transparency and inform student enrollment decisions through a market-based accountability system. A key step in the process is to invite comments about such proposals.
Several associations representing college leaders, educators, and professionals responded on September 13, 2018. They advised the Department to revise rather than eliminate the existing rule. A concern is that rescinding the existing rule prior to developing additional alternatives would leave a meaningful gap between oversight of gainful employment programs and the period when additional information could influence prospective students’ decisions. By rescinding the regulations entirely, the Department will forego an opportunity to strengthen and improve them and abandon a meaningful oversight tool. The result, according to the Department’s own estimates, would be $4.5 billion in Pell Grant funding going to programs that otherwise would not be eligible under existing regulations. Considering the importance of Pell Grants and the difficulties involved in providing sufficient funding to meet student needs, it is viewed as troubling that the Department is considering a move that would significantly increase the cost of Pell Grants by directing those additional funds to programs that demonstrate poor returns for students.
Negotiated Rulemaking To Revise Regulations Involving Accreditation
The Department of Education on July 31, 2018 published a notice in the Federal Register announcing its intention to convene a negotiated rulemaking committee to revise regulations regarding accreditation and the recognition of accrediting organizations. The goal is to reduce current compliance requirements, concentrating accreditors’ efforts on educational quality and strengthening commitment to innovation. In preparation, the Department of Education held the first of three public hearings on September 6, 2018. At the hearing, which was held in Washington, DC, testimony was provided by representatives of think tanks, consumer advocacy groups, college presidents, and several accreditation representatives. Comments made on that occasion indicated that: (1) the agenda for the negotiated rulemaking is too large for one committee; (2) the Department needs to strengthen regulations, not reduce them; (3) competency-based education in the context of regular and substantive interaction should be addressed; and (4) institutional mission needs to be protected.
Federal Funding Support For Higher Education In Fiscal Year 2019
Fiscal Year 2019 begins on October 1, 2018. A budget proposal for the new fiscal year released last February signaled an intention by the Trump Administration to consolidate multiple income-contingent repayment plans for student borrowers into a single plan, eliminate Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and end subsidized student loans. It also would expand Pell Grant eligibility to short-term non-degree programs, end the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, and overhaul the Federal Work-Study program. Congress subsequently chose to do otherwise.
A funding agreement reached by House and Senate negotiators reflects an effort to increase spending on student aid, career and technical education, and university-based research. The spending bill for the new fiscal year would increase the Education Department's total budget to $71.5 billion -- a second year in a row Congress has boosted funding, despite efforts by the Administration to reduce spending. The maximum Pell Grant would be raised by $100 to $6,195 in the agreement. Perkins Career and Technical Education grants will receive $1.26 billion, representing a $70 million increase from the previous year. Funding aimed at fixing the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program was extended to an amount of $350 million.
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