Thursday, October 21, 2010

2010 ACCT Congress: Update on Federal Legislative Priorities

The $2 billion Community College and Career Training Program, proposed regulations that could impact community college career certification programs, and the federal appropriations process were among the key public policy priorities outlined during a Thursday session at the 2010 ACCT Leadership Congress.

Among the programs discussed were:

The Community College and Career Training Program. Enacted as part of the landmark Healthcare and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, the CCCTP allocates $500 million annually for four years to help community colleges develop workforce programs. While the program is under the aegis of the Trade Adjustment Act, the grants are expected to focus on the development of new programs, according to Jim Hermes, director of government relations for the American Association of Community Colleges. “The Department of Labor has emphasized over and over that this program is going to be about ‘building the box’,” he said.

The Department of Labor is expected to issue a solicitation for grant applications shortly, with applications due early next year and awards potentially announced in the spring. According to Hermes, the DOL considers $2.5 million to be the minimum grant size for individual institutions, with consortia eligible for higher awards. Department officials have also emphasized the importance of grant applications focusing on reform and innovation. “This is not going to be for mere program expansion,” Hermes said.

Gainful Employment Regulations The Department of Education has proposed two rule-making documents that would provide new regulations overseeing what job training and certification programs will remain eligible for students to receive federal financial aid. Targeted at the for-profit college sector, which collectively amassed $2.7 billion in profits in 2009, the proposed regulations could also impact the 170,000 students who receive certification at community colleges each year, said David Baime, AACC senior vice president for government relations and research. While the for-profit sector is engaged in a furious lobbying effort to thwart the proposed regulations, ACCT and AACC believe the new rules, which would set standards related to student debt/earning ratios and loan repayment rates, would not pose problems for most community college programs, whose students rarely borrow money. The two associations do remain concerned, however, about the additional regulatory and reporting burdens at a time when community colleges have limited resources to devote to them, Baime said.

American Opportunity Tax Credit. Included in the 2009 stimulus legislation, the AOTC replaced the Hope Scholarship Tax Credit, offering community college students a higher maximum credit, as well as the ability to apply the credit to course materials for the first time. The AOTC expires at the end of the year, and extending it for another 10 years would cost $58 billion, Baime said. Despite support from the Administration, “in a Congress increasingly concerned about deficit spending, that’s a high hurdle,” he added, especially since it is likely to become embroiled in the debate over extending the Bush tax cuts, which are also expiring. Should the AOTC not be extended, the Hope Scholarship Tax Credit would still be available, according to Baime.

Appropriations. With the uncertainty of midterm elections, none of the appropriation bills for FY11 were approved before the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year, said Jee Hang Lee, ACCT director of public policy. Of key concern is the Pell Grant program, which has increased from serving 5 million to nearly 9 million students. While $13.5 billion was provided to address Pell Grant shortfalls in the healthcare reconciliation bill earlier this year, the program still has a $5.7 billion shortfall, and could see a reduction in the maximum award if that shortfall isn’t addressed, according to Lee. The Career Pathways Program has also been eliminated, in part because it was supposed to be replaced by components of the American Graduation Initiative. On the state level, the $10 billion education jobs bill passed earlier this year did not include funds for public higher education, but did include a provision requiring states to provide level funding for public colleges and universities. “We’re hopeful that the maintenance of effort [provision] will help states maintain a level of funding,” Lee said.

DREAM Act. A push for a Senate vote on the legislation fell short ahead of the midterm elections. The current legislative priority remains attempting to get it considered separately from any comprehensive immigration reform bill, though the timing remains unclear, according to Lee.

The focus on the legislative agenda will continue at the 2011 National Legislative Summit, held Feb. 13-16 in Washington, D.C.

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