DC Digest – February 4, 2013

In Today’s Issue:

  • AAU, APLU Remind Policymakers About Dangers of Sequestration
  • ACE Issues Paper on Higher Education Under Sequestration
  • Immigration Reform Proposals Would Help Immigrant Students
  • Associations Express Disappointment With Ed Department’s International Education Strategy
  • OMB Releases Proposed Guidance on Cost Principles and Policies for Federal Grants
  • Consumer Protection Bureau Opens Inquiry into Student Financial Products

The presidents of AAU and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) wrote to President Obama and House and Senate leaders on January 30 urging them “once and for all” to end the threat of sequestration, citing the dangers to the nation’s economic future of allowing the sequester to be implemented on March 1.  Their letter said, “We write to urge you to repeal sequestration and to ensure that further deficit reduction focuses on the primary source of long-term spending growth, entitlement programs, and on tax reform that encourages economic growth and raises revenues.”

The letter from AAU President Hunter Rawlings and APLU President Peter McPherson references an earlier letter sent by more than 150 research university presidents and chancellors, including President Brodhead, expressing that view.  “The indiscriminate spending cuts forced by budget sequestration would severely harm the very investments-education and scientific research-our nation needs to grow its economy,” the two presidents wrote.

Read More:
AAU-APLU Letter on Sequester – 1.30.13 (pdf)
July Sequestration Letter from University Leaders (pdf)

ACE has issued a paper detailing the impact on higher education if Congress cannot agree on a plan to deal with the looming budget sequestration, the massive cuts to discretionary spending scheduled to take effect March 1.

Neither the House nor the Senate have given any hints about how they might deal with sequestration. Unless Congress intervenes, most higher education programs will face reductions of roughly 5 percent. The cuts would be especially harsh on research funding at the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

Read More:
ACE Report: The Likely Impact of Sequestration on Higher Education (ACEnet.edu)
The Return of the Sequester (InsideHigherEd)

Immigration reform rose higher on Washington’s agenda last week.  On January 28, a bipartisan group of influential Senators-dubbed the “Gang of Eight”-released a set of principles for comprehensive immigration reform, which they said they hoped would be able to pass as legislation later this year.  The following day, President Obama announced his own set of principles for immigration reform, noting that he had his own bill prepared in case the House and Senate appeared to be delaying action.

A bipartisan group in the House also is developing a set of proposals, reports Politico, which the Members hope to announce sometime close to the President’s State of the Union address on February 12.

Both the Senate Gang of Eight’s and the President’s sets of principles offer a separate path to citizenship for young people brought to this country illegally as children (that is, the DREAM Act) and would give green cards to international students earning advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields so they could remain and work in the United States.  Neither plan explicitly calls for expanding the number of non-immigrant, H-1B visas for high-skilled workers, which are used by companies to hire highly educated foreign professionals short-term for specialty positions and by universities for international researchers and scholars.

The high-skilled visa issue was addressed on January 29, however, by a bipartisan group of four Senators who introduced the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013.  Reflecting ideas strongly supported by the high-technology industry, the bill would make a number of changes in visa policy, including raising the annual number of H-1B visas for high-skilled workers from the current 65,000 to 115,000, with a “market-based” escalator clause to adjust the numbers to reflect needs of the economy.  As with the President’s proposal, the bill would use fees paid by employers to support U.S. science education.

Among the visa changes important to universities, the measure would exempt from the H-1B visa cap outstanding professors and researchers, persons with extraordinary ability, and those with U.S. STEM advance degrees, among others.  It also would allow employment for dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders.  Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) said of the bill, “It is my hope that this legislation finds a home in the balanced immigration reform package ultimately considered by the Senate this year.”

Read More:
H-1B Visa Facts At a Glance (CompeteAmerica.org)
Senators Coons, Rubio, Klobuchar and Hatch Introduce Bill to Boost U.S. Competitiveness(Coons.Senate.gov)

The six major presidentially based higher education associations sent a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on January 24 expressing disappointment that the Department’s new international education strategy report makes little mention of the Title VI/Fulbright Hays programs.  Specifically, the letter notes that the “report that details the next four years of the Department’s international education strategy makes scant mention of its largest and most successful international education programs, Title VI/Fulbright Hays.

The letter adds, “We strongly believe that a crucial component of global competency is developing a deep knowledge and expertise in foreign language and culture, which Title VI/Fulbright Hays provides. The suite of Title VI programs develops U.S. experts capable of ensuring that our nation retains capacity in less commonly taught languages. Their continued funding ensures that this capacity is passed to new generations of students.

The letter was copied to relevant Members of Congress.

Read More:
Association Letter on International Ed (pdf)
Department of Education’s International Education Strategy Report (ed.gov)

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on Friday published in the Federal Register the long-awaited “Omni Circular” that consolidates cost principles and administrative requirements for federal research grants and cooperative agreements and proposes modifications to several OMB grant circulars, including Circular A-21.  OMB is providing a 90-day comment period.

The Omni Circular would consolidate existing OMB grant circulars, such as A-21 and A-87, which guide federal assistance and grants to universities, other nonprofit organizations, and states and localities.  The circular includes specific modifications to current cost principles and administrative requirements for university research grants under OMB Circular A-21.

The proposed guidance addresses several issues that have been raised by the university community in an effort to improve efficiency, including:

– Exploring alternatives to time and effort reporting;
– Revising reimbursements to higher education institutions for utility costs;
– Allowing grantees to direct charge certain administrative support and computer costs; and
– Addressing agency exceptions to the use of negotiated cost rates.

OMB is hosting an informational webinar on the proposed guidance with members of the grant community on Friday, February 8, at 11:00 a.m. EST.  A link to the webinar will be available on the cfo.gov website; no advance registration is required.  A recorded version will be available for later viewing.

Read More:
Reform of Federal Policies Relating to Grants (federalregister.gov)

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced on Thursday that it had opened an inquiry into financial products-such as college-affiliated bank accounts and student debit cards-that are marketed to students by their universities.

The federal agency hopes to gather more information about how deals are forged between colleges and financial institutions, according to Rohit Chopra, the bureau’s student-loan ombudsman. The bureau published a request for comment that asks universities, students, and banks to shed light on what information is being shared, and how other student financial products are marketed to students and put in place.

Read More:
Consumer-Protection Bureau Opens Inquiry Into Student Financial Products (Chronicle of Higher Ed)
CFPB Request for Comment (Consumerfinance.gov)