House Democrats Introduce Legislation on College Affordability and Graduate Education

On September 15, House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA) and Higher Education and Workforce Investment Subcommittee Chair Frederica Wilson (D-FL) introduced the Lowering Obstacles to Achievement Now (LOAN) Act. If passed, the bill would provide significant investments to graduate education building on President Biden’s Student Debt Relief Plan.

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The bill would:

  • Extend Pell Grant eligibility from the current 12 semesters back to 18 semesters as it existed before 2011 eligibility cuts related to a Pell Grant funding shortfall.
  • Allow students completing a graduate or professional degree to use any remaining Pell eligibility from their undergraduate studies.
  • Provides graduate and professional students attending public and non-profit institutions with access to subsidized loans at the same interest rate available to these students for unsubsidized loans.
  • Repeal origination fees for Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, as well as Direct PLUS Loans.
  • Extends Title IV eligibility to DREAMers students.

“This legislation highlights a commitment to making graduate education more affordable by maximizing the Pell Grant program,” Suzanne T. Ortega, CGS President said in a press release. “This ensures that individuals with exceptional financial need can meet changing workforce needs and pursue degrees essential to their career goals.”

Text of the bill can be found here. A title-by-title summary of the bill can be found here.

We encourage graduate deans to reach out to their congressional delegations to encourage swift passage of this bill before end of the 117th Congress.

CGS Guiding Principles and Policy Priorities

Earlier today, CGS posted its “Guiding Principles and Policy Priorities on Federal Student Loans and Financial Aid for Graduate Education.” Many of CGS’ priorities align with provisions found in the LOAN Act. A copy of the new CGS guidelines and policy priorities document can be found here.

CGS Releases International Graduate Admissions Survey

This week CGS released its annual International Graduate Admissions Survey for Fall 2021. Since 2004, CGS has conducted a multi-year empirical examination of international graduate application, admission, and enrollment trends. This analysis responds to member institutions’ concerns about continuing changes in the enrollment of students from abroad seeking master’s and doctoral degrees from U.S. colleges and universities.

Key findings from the 2022 report include:

  • International graduate applications increased for the third year in a row with international applications increasing by 12 percent from the year prior.
  • The number of first-time international graduate students increased by 92 percent, rebounding back to Fall 2018 levels.
  • First-time graduate enrollment is increasing across all fields of study.

“These findings are a strong sign that, despite changes brought on by the pandemic, the United States remains a destination of choice for international graduate students,” Suzanne T. Ortega, president of CGS said in a press release. “This is good news for U.S. universities and local communities, which benefit enormously from the contributions of master’s and doctoral degree students to research and learning environments.”

CGS Joins Comment Letter on Title IX

The Council of Graduate Schools and nearly 50 higher education organizations submitted public comments regarding the Department of Education’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Title IX. As reported in previous Washington Insights & Highlights Newsletters, the Department of Education’s proposed revisions to Title IX include:

  • Clearly protecting students and employees from all forms of sex discrimination.
  • Providing full protection from sex-based harassment.
  • Requiring schools to take prompt and effective action to end any sex discrimination in their educational programs or activities – and to prevent its recurrence and remedy its effects.
  • Requiring schools to respond promptly to all complaints of sex discrimination with a fair and reliable process that includes trained, unbiased decision makers to evaluate the evidence.
  • Protecting LGBTQI+ students from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.
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The organizations write in the letter “We appreciate the opportunity to submit these comments and to share insights regarding the impact of the proposed changes on a diverse group of colleges and universities and campus stakeholders. Higher education institutions are committed to addressing sex-based discrimination and sex-based harassment on their campuses and to complying with all federal and state laws, including Title IX. We hope these comments will help the Department provide a final rule that will assist campuses in their efforts to address sex-based discrimination, to support survivors of sex-based harassment, and to ensure fair processes for all parties.”

Given the comprehensiveness of the higher education community’s comment letter, below are a few recommendations of relevance to the graduate education community:

  • Conduct “subject to the institution’s disciplinary authority” 106.11. The proposed rule would expand the scope of when conduct is considered to have occurred under an institution’s education program or activity to include any that is subject to a recipient’s disciplinary authority. In response to the proposed rule, the organizations that signed on to this letter offers the following recommendation: “We suggest the Department revise the proposed rule to eliminate the disciplinary authority element from its definition of programs and activities. As an alternative standard, the Department could consider requiring institutions to address conduct, that while outside the institution’s program or activity, the institution has determined the potential to cause serious harm to the health and safety of its community members.”
  • When non-harassment sex-based discrimination may be addressed informally vs. triggering section 106.45 procedures. Since the proposed rule is ambiguous about whether an institution is obligated to initiate the grievance procedures under 106.45 in response to every single concern about non-harassment sex-based discrimination that a student, visiting student, faculty or staff member may bring to the attention of a faculty or staff member, the comment letter asks for greater clarity on this provision. In response to the proposed rule, the organizations that signed on to this letter offers the following recommendation: “We recommend that the Department define in the regulations when sex-based discrimination rises to the level that would require an institutional response informed by the grievance procedures in section 106.45. We urge the Department to take a practical approach in crafting this standard to preserve flexibility and maintain significant discretion for faculty and staff to promptly and effectively address sex-based discrimination that does not meet this standard, as they are already required to do under section 106.44.”
  • Employee reporting obligations 106.44(c). The proposed rule creates an expansive set of reporting responsibilities for college and university employees. As currently written, this proposed rule would require every employee to either contact the Title IX coordinator or provide contact information anytime they learn of conduct that may constitute sex-based discrimination. Given this convoluted set of reporting requirements, we urge the Department of Education to redraft this section of the proposed rule in a way that would provide greater flexibility for institutions. The comment letter specifically recommends that the Department clearly designate the specific categories of employees who have responsibility for reporting to the Title IX coordinator and provide institutions the flexibility to designate additional employees as mandatory reporters.
  • Institutional obligations regarding students experiencing pregnancy or a related condition 106.40. The proposed rule outlines institutional responsibilities with respect to pregnant students and students experiencing a pregnancy related condition. While the proposed rule provides additional clarity regarding institutional obligations and codifies some existing requirements, it does not fundamentally alter campus responsibilities in this area. Given the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and related state legislation, the organizations that signed on to this letter think it would be beneficial to break off these issues from the current NPRM and consider them in a second, separate rulemaking.

Funding Opportunity Open for Minerva Initiative University Research Grants

The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) is interested in receiving proposals for the Minerva Research Initiative. The initiative funds social science research by universities, with awarded projects funded for at least three years. Estimated total program funding is $15 million, with applications closing on February 9, 2023. OSD is particularly interested in projects that align with and support the upcoming 2022 National Defense Strategy. Defense priorities include:

  1. Defending the homeland, paced to the growing multi-domain threat posed by China.
  2. Deterring strategic attacks against the United States, allies, and partners.
  3. Deterring aggression, while being prepared to prevail in conflict when necessary, prioritizing the challenge with China in the Indo-Pacific, then the Russia challenge in Europe.
  4. Building a resilient Joint Force and defense ecosystem.

DOE Announces Awards for EPSCoR Projects

This week the Department of Energy announced $21 million for projects through the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). The new projects are distributed to colleges and universities in 18 states and Puerto Rico and span a wide range of energy research topics. A list of awardees can be found here.

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“The EPSCoR program is a long-standing and critical pillar in the Department of Energy’s efforts to ensure that all regions and institutions, particularly those that have been historically underrepresented in Federal research funding programs, are engaged in competitive, impactful, clean-energy-relevant research,” said Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, Director of the DOE Office of Science, in a press release. “The projects selected for awards will help to build expertise and capabilities at the EPSCoR institutions and will strengthen their connections to the wealth of capabilities at the DOE national laboratories.”

CGS Joins Letter Regarding Visa Processing of International Students

On September 15, CGS and 14 organizations sent a letter thanking the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs for the efforts made to ensure efficient visa processing during the COVID-19 pandemic and urging them to make these policies and processes permanent.

The organizations write on the letter, “We urge you to permanently maximize alternatives to in-person visa interviews by providing waivers, virtual interviews, extension of visa eligibility waivers, and all other practicable options. We appreciate the policy guidance to avoid duplicative in-person interview screening of visa applicants who have already been vetted and received a visa to travel to the United States in the past. This wise use of limited resources both protects our security and reduces backlogs. We expect that there are now sufficient data to demonstrate the effectiveness of this policy, and we urge you to make permanent the visa interview waiver process in regulation in order to reduce future uncertainty or confusion.”