This Week In Washington
Congress will now have until December 21st to fund the government or risk a shutdown. In the wake of the passing of former President George H.W. Bush, the House of Representatives canceled all votes this week, thereby making it impossible for Congress to finish negotiating and complete a deal to fund the federal government for the 2019 fiscal year by the previous deadline of December 7th. The education funding bill was already signed into law earlier this year, so there is little chance education programs will see any major changes from the remaining must-pass legislation. (Please note: we have heard the top education Senators are pushing for the recently introduced FAFSA Act to be attached to the spending legislation. Read more about that bill.)
On Monday, six Senate Democrats wrote to US News & World Report (USNWR) urging the organization to “further change their methodology for college rankings by more expansively considering a school’s diversity, inclusion, and representation.” In the letter, they argue it is important for USNWR to consider diversity goals and accomplishments to more accurately reflect the quality of institutions in its ranking system. This letter comes on the heels of USNWR recent change to give more weight to intuitions who enroll students from low-income backgrounds.
On Tuesday, USNWR responded to the Senators with an official statement. USNWR generally agreed with the Senators’ contention, but noted they need additional data that it says is not available to create more nuanced rankings. USNWR indicated it was open to continuing a dialogue about improving its ranking system saying: “We welcome the chance to . . . hear specific ideas for available, accurate data that could further our shared goal of helping students achieve a high-quality education, regardless of background.” While these changes are focused on undergraduate rankings, USNWR rankings has significant influence among law schools, but USNWR has not indicated if methodology changes will be made to its law school rankings.
In her final report to Congress, the outgoing Inspector General (IG) at the Department of Education (ED), Kathleen Tighe, detailed that her office warned against eliminating the Obama-era Gainful Employment (GE) regulations without an “adequate replacement.” The IG said she informed ED about the office’s concerns several months prior to ED releasing a draft elimination of GE in August. The report notes the proprietary sector "continues to be a high-risk,” and that it “represents a disproportionate share of student loan defaults." The IG had raised these very same issues back in March, but ED moved forward with trying to eliminate GE later this year anyway.
Recall, ED had to delay the repeal of the GE regulations because it could not secure a new data-sharing agreement with the Social Security Administration (SSA), and it missed a November 1st deadline to have the new regulations implemented next year. POLITICO is now reporting that SSA is still refusing to share data with ED, citing that it believes a regulation must change before it can share data. So, while the Obama-era GE regulations are finally currently in effect, they are essentially toothless because ED does not have the data to calculate certain metrics and enforce the regulations.
News You Can Use
Some advocates and researchers recommend that federal policymakers address equity gaps for students of color in enrollment, completion, financial aid when Congress reauthorizes the Higher Education Act.
The following bill(s) have been recently introduced for consideration by the 115th Congress (2017-2018):
S. 3697 – Workforce Development through Post-Graduation Scholarships Act [Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) / Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV)] would “help attract recent graduates to communities that have experienced population loss or have high poverty rates,” by providing them scholarships that would “pay down their student debt if they live and work in regions with unmet need.” This is the Senate companion bill to H.R. 6486, which was introduced in July.