Senate Appropriations Committee Releases Guidance for Earmarks

President Biden is scheduled to release the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2024 Budget on March 9. The release of the annual budget is the official start to budget and appropriations process. As part of this process, the Senate Appropriations Committee has already released its general guidance for Fiscal Year 2024 Congressionally Directed Spending — commonly known as earmarks —  last week. According to the Senate Appropriations Committee press release, the Committee will begin accepting spending requests from Senators at the end of March. So, universities and other interested entities will have time to submit their earmark requests to their Senators.

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Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME) released additional guidance regarding each subcommittee’s eligibility criteria for requests. For the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education subcommittee, examples listed for types of projects improving postsecondary education include “to hire and train faculty, establish and improve degree programs, improve teacher preparation programs, develop and improve curricula, upgrade technology, equipment, and telecommunications, provide student support, and implement university partnerships with school districts.”

Deadlines for earmark requests for all 12 spending bills:

  • Agriculture — March 31
  • Commerce-Justice-Science — April 5
  • Defense (not accepting earmarks) — April 14
  • Energy-Water — March 30
  • Financial Services — March 31
  • Homeland Security — April 11
  • Interior-Environment — April 4
  • Labor-HHS-Education —April 13
  • Legislative Branch (not accepting earmarks) —March 30
  • Military Construction-VA — April 7
  • State-Foreign Operations (not accepting earmarks) —April 12
  • Transportation-HUD —April 6

Senators Call for Greater Transparency for Student Loans

Last week, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) introduced the Student Transparency for Understanding Decisions in Education Net Terms (STUDENT) Act. This bipartisan legislation would allow student loan applicants to access an estimate of the total amount of interest they would pay, based on a standard 10-year repayment plan, during or prior to accepting a loan.

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“Every student and their family deserve to know the full costs of taking out a loan to pay for college before they make such an important decision,” said Senator Manchin in a press release. “I’m proud to introduce the bipartisan STUDENT Act to provide greater transparency around student loan borrowing and ensure families have all of the facts necessary to learn the best way to finance a college education. I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this commonsense, bipartisan legislation.”

Legislation was also introduced by Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA) to end the current suspension of student loan payments. Titled the Stop Reckless Student Loan Actions Act, the legislation would end the suspension of repayments on qualifying federal student loans and prohibit the president from cancelling federal student loans due to a national emergency. The Biden Administration’s Student Debt Relief Program is on hold as the Supreme Court considers its legality.

Department of Education to Hold Listening Sessions on Incentive Compensation for College Recruiters

Last week, the Department of Education announced plans to hold virtual listening sessions on how institutions of higher education may compensate recruiters. The Department is looking to hear from the public about how previous guidance in 2011, which banned incentive compensation but created an exception for third parties that bundled services, has affected the growth of online enrollment and associated federal student loan debt. Since issuing the guidance, the number of students recruited by entities operating under the exception has increased, particularly through online programs operated by third-party entities, including Online Program Managers (OPMs).

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Given the growth in online enrollment and associated federal student debt, the Department is seeking public input to understand the impact of this exception and whether any updates are necessary to the guidance. Listening sessions are scheduled for March 8 from 1-4 pm ET and March 9 from 1-4 pm ET. To register for the listening sessions, click here. Individuals who would like to present comments at the virtual listening sessions must register by sending an email message to no later than 12:00 p.m., ET, on the business day prior to the listening session at which they want to speak.

The Department of Education also released updated guidance that clarifies when organizations that contract with institutions of higher education are considered regulated entities known as third-party servicers. The guidance clarifies when companies and others who provide recruitment services to institutions of higher education will fall into the third-party servicers category. The updated guidance will ensure the Department has full transparency into and more data on the companies that work with institutions of higher education in areas that relate to federal financial aid. Institutions of higher education will have until May 1, 2023, to report any arrangements with third-party servicers that have not already been reported to the Department, detail the services the entity performs on behalf of the institution, and disclose the timeframe of the agreement. For more information, please read the full guidance here.

CGS and the higher education community have asked the Department of Education for additional time to respond to the guidance concerning third-party servicers. Please read the letter here.

Additional Federal Funding to Support Mental Health and Student Wellness

On February 16, the Department of Education announced $188 million in awards to increase access to school-based mental health services and to strengthen the pipeline of mental health professionals in high-need school districts. The funding will enable communities to hire school-based mental health professionals and train more to build a diverse pipeline of mental health providers in schools. Awards are split between the School-Based Mental Health Services Grant (SBMH) program and the Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration Grant (MHSP) program.

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Through SBMH, the Department awarded $131.8 million to states and school districts to increase the number of qualified mental health services providers delivering school-based mental health services to students. Through MHSP, the Department awarded $46.7 million to states, school districts, and institutions of higher education to train school-based mental health services providers for employment in schools and local educational agencies (LEAs). Many awardees of the MHSP program are CGS members.

Request for Information Regarding First Amendment and Free Inquiry Related Grant Conditions

On February 22, the Department of Education released a federal register notice requesting information on how regulations relating to First Amendment freedoms and free inquiry to Department grants have affected decisions surrounding First Amendment and free speech-related litigation and institutional policies on freedom of speech. In 2020, the Department of Education issued final regulations to add material conditions relating to First Amendment freedoms and free inquiry to certain Department grants. Referred to as the “Free Inquiry Rule,” the rule specified that in order for institutions of higher education to receive grants, they comply with the First Amendment and follow policies on freedom of speech, including academic freedom.

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The Department encourages comments from impacted institutions of higher education; researchers, academics, policy experts, and other individuals familiar with First Amendment rights and institutional policies; organizations that work on First Amendment issues, including those that work directly with institutions and students; students and other members of the public. The deadline for submissions is March 24, 2023.

The Department invites comments as to:

  1. Whether and how the current regulations have affected or are reasonably expected to affect decisions surrounding First Amendment and free speech-related litigation in Federal and State court;
  2. How these regulations have affected or are reasonably expected to affect public IHEs’ approach to designing institutional policies related to First Amendment protections, including on-campuses processes used to address alleged free speech and academic freedom violations;
  3. How these regulations have affected or are reasonably expected to affect private IHEs’ approach to designing institutional policies related to free speech and academic freedom, including on-campuses processes used to address alleged free speech and academic freedom violations;
  4. Whether and how these grant conditions have provided additional protections of First Amendment rights in the case of public colleges, or promotion of free speech and free inquiry policies in the case of private institutions;
  5. Whether these regulations affect or could be expected to affect how aggrieved campus community members seek resolution to alleged free speech and academic freedom policy violations;
  6. Whether these regulations have resulted in additional quantifiable costs beyond what was considered in the 2020 final rule;
  7. Any other information that the public believes would inform the Department’s understanding of the impact of these regulations.

NEH Announces Humanities Panel Meetings

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) recently announced meetings in March for their Humanities Panel. The first level of NEH’s application review process for grants, the purpose of the meetings is for panel review, discussion, evaluation, and recommendation of applications for financial assistance. More information regarding the application review process can be found here. NEH grants for FY23 total $152 million, an increase of 18 percent from FY22. Funding for CGS programs of interest is located here.