Government Affairs

Department Begins Regulatory Re-write on Accountability Rules for Institutions, Secretary Cardona Makes Speech on Top Priorities | Policy Matters (January 2022)

January 27, 2022

Major Updates

Biden-Harris Administration Takes Actions including $198M in Grants to Support Students’ Basic Needs and Mitigate the Spread of COVID-19 at Colleges and Universities

“The Department announced that it will be inviting applications next week for a $198 million grant opportunity under the Supplemental Support under American Rescue Plan (SSARP) program to support colleges and universities with the greatest unmet needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In awarding funds, the Department will prioritize community colleges and rural institutions of higher education (IHEs) that serve a high percentage of low-income students and have experienced enrollment declines since the start of the pandemic. Funds will be awarded in late spring. As institutions continue to address the immediate challenges brought on by the pandemic, the Department encourages eligible institutions to use SSARP funds toward 1) evidence-based practices to monitor and suppress Coronavirus, 2) strategies for addressing students’ basic needs, 3) support for students’ continued enrollment and re-enrollment, 4) forgiveness of institutional debts, and 5) the expansion of programs that lead to in-demand jobs.”

The Department also encouraged institutions in a letter to utilize FAFSA data to link students with basic needs programs including: SNAP food benefits, Child Tax Credit, Affordable Connectivity Program broadband benefits, and among other federal programs.

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Department Begins Regulatory Re-write on Accountability Rules for Institutions, Secretary Cardona Makes Speech on Top Priorities
Starting earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) began a new negotiated rulemaking session which is ongoing through March. This round of rulemaking focuses on a range of issues, including the 90/10 rule (that for-profit institutions may not receive more than 90% in federal funding) and how other federal benefits may be counted towards that 90%, such as GI bill benefits. For-profit to non-profit conversions are on the docket. As is revisiting the Gainful Employment rule (which was rescinded in Trump Administration) which governed requirements on career training programs and previously measured student outcomes by way of debt to earnings calculations. It also covers some other major topics like financial responsibility rules. Currently drafted language requires institutions to ensure that all programs that require programmatic accreditation and/or licensure/certification meet the requirements for that, in each state in which the students are located. All this has some asking, how tough will the Biden Administration get on higher ed?

On many of the discussed controversial topics, in the first round of sessions, so far the negotiators have shown they are fractured in some ways. The committee must come to a consensus on all regulatory language changes on all topics collectively by the end of the sessions in March. If it does not, the Department itself is allowed to craft the language it desires.

Learn more and register to watch or comment during negotiated rulemaking sessions. Watch recordings from the sessions here.


Secretary Miguel Cardona also recently made a speech outlining the top priorities of the Department of Education. The speech was an insightful outlay of what the Biden Administration will be focusing on in relation to its education agenda. Topics included pandemic relief as well as relief to student loan borrowers. The Administration is also looking to make long term improvements to programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness and creating a strong Gainful Employment Rule. The Secretary pledged to hold colleges and universities accountable for taking advantage of borrowers, most notably through reestablishing an enforcement unit at Federal Student Aid. Secretary Cardona also stated the Department is student centered, and wants to ensure borrowers have loan payment options that reflect their economic circumstances. There will be a focus on making sure students’ outcomes are fulfilling careers and reimagining the connection between pre-K through 12, higher education, and workforce. Through a collaboration with the Department of Labor and Department of Commerce, the Department of Education will invest in career preparation programs through community colleges. The Department is also prioritizing and increasing grant programs that allow students to return to higher education or pursue career and technical education programs at any point in their lives and careers. Another major initiative is supporting institutions who serve underrepresented groups and increase funding and access to Pell Grants.

Read more about the top priorities of the Department.


Emergency Broadband Benefit transitions to Affordable Connectivity Program

The Emergency Broadband Benefit will transition to the Affordable Connectivity Program. Students may be eligible to receive this important federal benefit to help them cover some connectivity costs. The benefit provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service and up to $75 per month for those on qualifying Tribal lands. Individuals can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.

A household is eligible if a member of the household received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year; has an income that is at or below 200% of the federal poverty level; or participates in certain assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, SSI, or one of other select eligibility guidelines.

Learn more about the program transition and steps your students may need to take to stay enrolled after March 1st, by visiting fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit.

 

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