On February 7, President Biden delivered his second State of the Union Address to the 118th U.S. Congress. In his address, President Biden emphasized the importance of making higher education more affordable by reducing student debt and increasing Pell Grants for working- and middle-class families, as well as tackling the mental health crisis.
A fact sheet on the State of the Union address mentioned improving school-based mental health by increasing the number of mental health care professionals in high-need districts and strengthening the school-based mental health profession pipeline. This would be accomplished by increasing funding to recruit future mental health professionals from Historically Black Colleges and Universities and to expand the Minority Fellowship Program. The Minority Fellowship Program, administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, aims to reduce health disparities, and improve behavioral health care outcomes for racial and ethnic populations by growing the number of racial and ethnic minorities in the nation’s behavioral health workforce. The fact sheet also prioritizes mental health research. The Office of Science and Technology Policy and Domestic Policy Council recently released the White House Report on Mental Health Research Priorities, which identifies key areas where additional scientific research is needed to address our national mental health crisis. Some priority research areas in the report include advancing equity in promoting mental health, supporting, and expanding the mental health workforce, and integrating substance use disorder and mental health research and treatment.
House Education Committee Hearing on American Education in Crisis
On February 8, the House Education and the Workforce Committee held its first hearing of the 118th Congress. The title of the hearing was American Education in Crisis. In her opening statement, Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) made the following comment about higher education: “As the institution that holds the power of the purse, we have a responsibility to protect the interests of taxpayers and ensure that students are receiving a high-quality education that enables them to repay their loans and be career ready. Republicans plan to pass commonsense legislation that fixes the inherent problems in our federal student loan and accountability systems to protect both borrowers and taxpayers.” In his opening statement, Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) mentioned reintroducing legislation from the 117th Congress that will help every student reach their potential, including the Lowering Obstacles to Achievement Now (LOAN) Act.
The LOAN Act proposes significant investments in graduate education, such as increasing Pell Grant eligibility from 12 semesters to 18 semesters and allows students completing a graduate degree to use any remaining Pell eligibility from their undergraduate studies, provides graduate students attending public and non-profit institutions with access to subsidized loans, and repeals origination fees for Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans. CGS supported this legislation in the last Congress and will do so again, should it be introduced during the 118th Congress.
During the hearing, Representatives Tim Walberg (R-MI) and Lisa McClain (R-MI) both mentioned the need to limit the amount of Grad PLUS loans distributed to students.
Legislation Introduced to Expand Pell Grant Eligibility to Grad Students
On February 9, Representatives. Haley Stevens (D-MI) and Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) introduced the Pell to Grad Act. Key provisions of the legislation include extending students’ lifetime Pell Grant eligibility to 16 semesters from the current 12 semesters and allowing students who have received a Pell Grant award during their undergraduate education to utilize their remaining Pell eligibility towards their first graduate degree.
Rep. Stevens said in a press release on the legislation, “For many students, completing college in the traditional 12 semesters is not a reality. Expanding Pell eligibility by four semesters means that the students who need it most have another chance to complete their degrees. We also know that advanced degrees are key to filling the jobs of the future. I hear from business owners across SE Michigan that they are eager to hire and have high-wage jobs in the advanced manufacturing sector just waiting to be filled. This bill will help students get the degrees they need to succeed and become a part of America’s next generation of workers and thinkers, ready to meet the demand of the future.”
In the previous two congresses, CGS advocated for the Expanding Access to Graduate Education Act, which would allow the use of remaining Pell Grant funds for graduate studies. CGS will also support the recently introduced Pell to Grad Act.
CGS Submits Public Comments to Department of Education
This week CGS submitted public comment regarding the Department of Education’s proposed changes to the Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) plan. We state our concern about the discretionary income payment provision which requires graduate borrowers to pay ten percent of their discretionary income per month, while decreasing the discretionary income requirement for undergraduate borrowers to five percent. CGS is also concerned about the provision which requires graduate borrowers to repay their loans for 25-years before the cancellation of their remaining debt, as well as the unintended consequences these proposed changes may have on women and underrepresented minorities.
CGS also submitted public comment regarding the Department of Education’s Request for Information (RFI) Regarding Public Transparency for Low-Financial Value Postsecondary Programs. In the RFI, the Department of Education asks the public to provide suggestions, metrics and methodology that may be used to identify low-financial-value programs. In the CGS comment letter, we question if there is a set of metrics that captures the relevant information the Department of Education is seeking to use to identify low-financial value programs.
Department of Education Releases Data Showing Relief Funds Kept Millions of College Students Enrolled in School
New data by the Department of Education estimates that more than 18 million students received direct financial aid under the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) since the start of 2021. Key findings of the data include:
- Helped students afford basic needs and remain enrolled in school. In 2021, institutions distributed $19.5 billion in Emergency Financial Aid Grants to 12.7 million students, including 80 percent of Pell Grant recipients. Approximately 9 in 10 institutions reported that HEERF enabled them to keep students enrolled who were at risk of dropping out due to pandemic-related factors.
- Kept student costs down, including reducing unpaid balances owed to the institution. Roughly 3 out of 4 institutions indicated that HEERF enabled them to keep student net prices similar to pre-pandemic levels. More than 1,400 institutions spent nearly $1.5 billion on discharging unpaid student balances.
- Kept colleges open and faculty and staff employed. More than 2 in 3 institutions indicated that HEERF allowed them to keep faculty, staff, employees, and contractors at full salary levels.
- Helped slow the spread of the pandemic. Nearly 3 in 4 institutions stated that HEERF enabled them to purchase COVID tests, provide health screenings, and provide the healthcare necessary to help support students, faculty, and staff.
DOE Office of Science Accepting Applications for Graduate Student Research Program
The Department of Energy’s Office of Science announced that they are accepting applications for the Graduate Student Research program. The goal of the program is to prepare graduate students for science, technology, engineering, or mathematics careers by providing graduate thesis research opportunities at DOE laboratories. Applications are due 5:00pm Eastern Time on Wednesday, May 3, 2023.
The DOE-Office of Science will host application assistance workshops on March 9 and April 20. The first workshop will provide a general overview of the program and the application requirements and will include time for discussing potential research topics with the program managers. You can register for the first workshop here. The second workshop will guide attendees through the application process, answer general questions, provide guidance on proposal writing and feature discussions with scientists and former awardees. You can register for the second workshop here.
Applications Open for Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Program
This week the Department of Education issued a notice inviting applications for the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship program. The program provides opportunities for doctoral students to engage in dissertation research abroad in modern foreign languages and area studies. There are $3.4 million in estimated available funds for the program, with an estimated 90 awards. The deadline for applications is April 11, 2023.
Competitive preference priorities are:
- A research project that focuses on any modern foreign language except French, German, or Spanish.
- A research project in modern foreign languages and area studies with an academic focus on any of the following academic fields: science (including climate change), technology, engineering (including infrastructure studies), mathematics, computer science, education (comparative or international), international development, political science, public health (including epidemiology), or economics.
- Projects implemented by historically Black colleges and universities, minority-serving institutions, or tribal colleges and universities.