Senate Passes Reconciliation & Infrastructure Measures

On August 11, the Senate adopted its fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget resolution, which contains reconciliation instructions for committees as they begin work on a bill expected to provide $3.5 trillion in federal spending. The measure passed in the Senate chamber by a vote of 50-49. The budget blueprint sets aside $726 billion for the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee to allocate for investments in HBCUs, MSI, HSIs, TCUs, and ANNHIs, including research infrastructure and workforce development and job training, among other initiatives. The Senate Judiciary Committee is instructed to allocate some of its $107 billion to create a pathway to permanent status for “qualified” immigrants, including those brought to the U.S. as children, often known as Dreamers. The House of Representatives is expected to begin consideration of the budget proposal when members return on August 23. House approval of the budget blueprint is necessary to initiate reconciliation, the tool that Democrats, as the majority, will leverage to advance several of President Biden’s initiatives.

On August 10, the Senate passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill by a vote of 69-30, which would provide $550 billion for roads, bridges, transit, and more. Broadband infrastructure is among the major themes outlined throughout the legislation, including an extension of the temporary “Emergency Broadband Benefit” passed by Congress last December to provide discounted broadband service to eligible low-income households, including Pell Grant recipients. Due to the Pell requirement, graduate students were excluded from the temporary benefit. CGS will keep members apprised as eligibility requirements set in the new legislation are made available.

Certain students may benefit from federal investments in broadband infrastructure through actions initiated by the Biden administration. On August 11, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $167 million in 12 states to deploy broadband infrastructure in rural areas. Through public-private partnerships, USDA’s ReConnect broadband program is intended to invest in broadband infrastructure as outlined in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan. The states receiving funding as of August 11 include Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

Biden Administration Acts on Student Loans

On August 6, the Biden administration announced the continued pause in student loan repayments through January 31, 2022, including a 0% interest rate on all eligible loans and stopped collections on defaulted loans. The pause in collection will continue to benefit more than 40 million federal student loan borrowers with the extension in repayment pause, which was previously set to expire in September. The department also recommitted its efforts to create a smooth transition for borrowers moving back into repayment. For more information, please read the Department of Education’s press release.


On August 6, the Department of Education announced a notice in the Federal Register establishing a negotiated rulemaking committee that will meet virtually to rewrite regulations for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, income-contingent repayment plans, and borrower defense to repayment, among other issues. In the notice, the department requests nominations for negotiators and subcommittee members, as well as advisors for the committee. The committee meetings will all be held virtually and begin in October. For the full list of issues eligible for negotiation and more information, please see the department’s press release.


On August 9, the Department of Education released a new legal interpretation that revises and clarifies the role states play in enforcing borrower bills of rights or similar laws that address issues with servicing of federal loans. While interpretation will take immediate effect, the department is accepting public comments for the next 30 days to identify any additional changes that may be needed. More information can be found on the press release.

Senators Urge DOS Officials to Act on Student Visa Backlog

On August 6, 24 Senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, urging the Department of State (DOS) to streamline processing of student visas, including ten recommendations to mitigate the backlog of visa requests from international students and scholars. The Senators referenced the delayed waiting period that many international students currently face as visa backlogs continue to build. In the letter, lawmakers highlight the critical role international scholars’ play in bolstering the U.S. economy and workforce, contributing $41 billion in the U.S. economy in the academic year of 2018-2019. Policymakers provided a list of recommendations, including requests to provide predictable and consistent consular services, maximize alternatives to in-person visa interviews, and extend visa eligibility waivers. In addition, the letter recommends prioritizing student visas for scholars who deferred or began coursework virtually in 2020 and initial students who will begin their programs in 2021. As the Fall semester begins, a backlog of visa processing has become a barrier to international students entering the U.S., and CGS will keep members apprised as new guidance is released. Additionally, CGS thanks all members who wrote to their Senators encouraging that they signed on to the letter.

NSF Activity

The National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) Program full proposal deadline is approaching on September 6, 2021. The NRT program seeks proposals that explore ways for graduate students in research-based master’s and doctoral degree programs to develop the skills, knowledge, and competencies needed to pursue a range of STEM careers. The program is dedicated to effective training of STEM graduate students in high priority interdisciplinary or convergent research areas, through a comprehensive traineeship model that is innovative, evidence-based, and aligned with changing workforce and research needs. The NRT program also addresses workforce development, emphasizing broad participation, and institutional capacity building needs in graduate education. More information, including a frequently asked questions resource, is available on the program webpage.


On July 29, the National Science Foundation announced that Dr. José Luis Zayas-Castro will serve as division director for the Division of Engineering Education and Centers (EEC). Zayas-Castro, who begins his NSF term on August 2, is currently executive associate dean, associate dean for international affairs, and professor of industrial and management systems engineering in the University of South Florida’s College of Engineering. Previously, he was a professor and co-director of the diversity in engineering program at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He began his faculty career at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, where he led activities in manufacturing, innovation, and academic and research affairs. The NSF EEC invests in the creation of 21st century engineers and the discovery of technologies through transformational center-based research, research in education and inclusion, and research opportunities for students and teachers.

NEH Events and Funding Announcements

On August 10, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) posted a notice in the Federal Register announcing that the agency will hold meetings of the Humanities Panel, a federal advisory committee. The notice states that eight meetings will be held in September 2021 and are expected to address key issues associated with the Digital Humanities Advancement Grant Program. The meetings will include a panel review, discussion, evaluation, and recommendation of applications for financial assistance under the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965. More information, including all meeting dates, is available here.


On July 8, the NEH opened applications for the Dialogues on the Experience of War (Dialogues) grant program, housed in the Division of Education Programs. The Dialogues program supports the study and discussion of important humanities sources about war. Project teams should include humanities scholars, military veterans, and individuals with relevant experience, and organizations, representing project teams, are eligible to apply. Dialogues projects must include discussion and preparatory programs that involve training discussion leaders and holding discussions that address the experiences of war and military service. Applications are due on October 14, 2021. More information about eligibility, grant scope and application requirements can be found here.

Senate to Consider Kvaal’s Nomination

On August 11, Senate agreed to take up the procedural vote on James Kvaal’s nomination to be undersecretary of education, the top official overseeing higher education and student aid at the Department of Education. After roughly a month of delays, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) moved to allow the Senate to move forward with the nomination. In June, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) issued a hold on the nomination that delayed proceedings and blocked lawmakers from moving forward with a confirmation vote. This week, Senator Warren lifted the hold after the Department of Education committed to making substantial reforms to the administration of the student loan program.


In April, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) held a hearing on Kvaal’s nomination, and CGS joined the higher education community on a letter of support to the HELP Committee leadership. Serving as the senior advisor on domestic policy and deputy undersecretary of education in the Obama administration and most recently the president of The Institute for College Access and Success, Kvaal brings a host of higher education policy experience. The Senate is expected to consider Kvaal’s nomination when it returns from recess next month with a procedural vote scheduled for September 13.