Friday, June 26, 2009

Brief Updates on Key Issues

The spring and early summer have seen an extraordinary amount of activity in Washington impacting community colleges, occurring in the legislative, regulatory and even rhetorical arenas. We are expecting that activity to grow more intense with a major Obama administration announcement focusing on community colleges expected soon. In order to help you keep abreast of these developments as well as AACC activities to influence them, below is a synopsis of some of the major items of interest, with links to resource materials. In many areas your action would be of great help to our colleges and students.


Neither the critical House nor Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittees has written its funding bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, which starts October 1. AACC's position on this legislation, which includes many of the most important programs impacting community colleges and students, are outlined in our alert as well as correspondence sent to Congress with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. AACC also maintains its active role in the Student Aid Alliance. There is still time for your input on these issues, as the legislation won't be written until July 7th at the earliest, with the House acting first. See AACC's appropriations table for details on programs of particular interest.

On June 11, the House Appropriations Committee approved FY 2010 appropriations legislation for the National Science Foundation, H.R. 2467. The Committee slashed the Advanced Technological Education Program by $29.2 million, or 57%, citing as justification that the ATE program was not an appropriate NSF function. AACC is working through a variety of channels to redress this shocking misconception. More importantly, AACC, working closely with its members, has succeeded in securing $64 million, a $12.4 million increase, in the Senate appropriations bill. The critical final step in this process will come in the House-Senate conference on the legislation, and community college campuses will be urged to register their support for the program at that time.

The Obama Administration

The Obama Administration continues to signal its intention to substantially ratchet up support for community colleges. The President clearly understands that community colleges are essential to his goal to dramatically increase postsecondary education attainment rates. By 2020, Obama wants to again make the U.S. first in the world in the percentage of adults who hold a postsecondary degree. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel recently made the most explicit comments (mp3 audio) so far about the Administration's plans for major investments in community colleges. It can be assumed that any new funds provided to community colleges will be accompanied by specific expectations concerning institutional performance. The government won't provide funds without concomitant expectations of increased performance. AACC has been working closely with White House and agency staff on the various proposals that are being considered. By all signs they will be extremely ambitious and multi-faceted.

We are pleased to report that Dr. Martha J. Kanter, most recently Chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District in California, has received Senate confirmation as Under Secretary of Education. We know that Martha will bring the knowledge of community colleges and policy know-how to help them receive needed support from Washington.

President Obama has recently nominated Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier to be Assistant Secretary for the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE). Dr. Messier is currently leading an adult education center in Rhode Island. She has prior experience in the Department of Education under the Clinton administration and has worked on a TRIO program at the Community College of Rhode Island. AACC is also pleased to have established a close working relationship with Glenn Cummings, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Office of Vocational and Adult Education in the Department of Education. Glenn comes to ED from Southern Maine Technical College.

AACC is also cheered that Jane Oates has been confirmed by the Senate as Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training at the Department of Labor. Jane served most recently as the New Jersey Commissioner for Higher Education, but AACC knows her well from her former long-time service on Capitol Hill, working for Senator Edward M. Kennedy. We are fortunate to have Jane placed in this critical position, which administers the Workforce Investment Act programs.

Budget Reconciliation Legislation/Higher Education Act Amendments

Congress has directed the House Education and Labor and Senate HELP committees to approve budget "reconciliation" legislation that in all likelihood will make substantial changes to the administration of the major federal loan programs and hopefully direct resultant savings to create a Pell Grant entitlement, which AACC strongly supports. The House is expected to act first, probably in mid-July. In addition to lobbying for the Pell Grant entitlement, or, at minimum, greatly enhanced program funding, AACC is also advocating for campus discretion to lower loan maximums for selected categories of students. The budget reconciliation legislation will also probably be used to create a version of President Obama's proposed "College Access and Completion Fund." AACC has been deeply involved on discussions around this issue; please contact David Baime if you want more details.

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

AACC continues to closely monitor the implementation of the landmark American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as "the economic stimulus legislation." Community colleges and their students benefitted greatly from the Act. The largest piece of the stimulus legislation impacting community colleges was the "State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF)," totaling $40.1 billion. The ability of community colleges to access these funds has varied widely. Some of the many sources for information on the ARRA include the federal government's own site, as well as that of the Education Commission of the States.

Green Jobs Grants

The Department of Labor has just released solicitations for grant applications for five "green jobs" programs. The grants, which total approximately $500 million, are funded by ARRA, and follow the Workforce Investment Act formula funds previously released by the DOL. The programs are not as directly targeted to community colleges as we would have liked, but three of them in particular offer potential funding opportunities for community colleges working with local partners. Full details are available below.

Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Reauthorization

This long-delayed legislation appears close to being readied for action by Congressional authorizing committees. In this process, AACC is hoping to help shape the legislation to more extensively utilize community colleges as the primary vehicle through which federal job training and related service, including adult education, are delivered, with an emphasis on greatly enhancing community college capacity. AACC's detailed position assumes retention of the broad outlines of the current WIA structure, which is probable but not ensured. Please contact AACC staff for AACC's draft comments on a more fundamentally revised WIA framework that places community colleges squarely at the center.

Department of Education Negotiated Rulemaking

The Department of Education (ED) is undertaking a review of selected student financial assistance regulations, which will include the establishment of "negotiated rulemaking" committees later this year. These negotiated rulemaking panels allow stakeholders to provide input on draft regulations. Among other topics, ED has indicated its intention to review the "standards of satisfactory academic progress" that students must meet in order to receive federal student aid. This somewhat arcane issue could have a substantial impact on community college students, who in general take a more circuitous path to graduation than students in other sectors. AACC expects to be an active negotiator in the upcoming process.

In May, the Department concluded five panels of negotiated rulemaking on a variety of topics. AACC was represented on four of those panels. The outcome was generally positive, but AACC withheld its consensus on one of the panels on issues related to new student post-graduation employment tracking, which was thought to be overly burdensome and inconsistent with the underlying law, and implementation of the new year-round Pell Grant, which was major association priority in last year's Higher Education Act reauthorization. AACC has written to the Department of Education on this issue and will be closely monitoring implementation of the regulations.

Health Care Reform

Quietly, the hugely complex and volatile health care reform overhaul is also being used as a vehicle to reauthorize Title VIII of the Public Health Service Act (P.H.S.A.). This title provides grant assistance to institutions of higher education, including nursing and allied health programs. Most unfortunately, the Senate legislation, which is pending a final vote before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, shows a strong bias towards B.S.N. programs as opposed to the A.D.N. programs generally offered at community colleges. The four-year colleges of nursing and their allies seem committed to the last to doing everything possible to undermine A.D.N. programs, despite the fact that the health care system is sorely dependent on their graduates. AACC will continue to work to ensure that community college nursing and allied health programs receive a fair share of needed federal support. Please stay tuned on this critical issue.