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Washington Update – Late Spring 2014

Education is a hot topic in Washington, as well as across the country, these days, with a lot of attention lately to “Common Core” standards and testing. In higher education, a lot of the innovation in how to best invest taxpayer dollars in our students and institutions is occurring at the state level, and some folks in Washington are taking note. This update covers some of the latest developments in Washington, while also laying out some of the issues that could be addressed by Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Federal Fiscal Year 2015 Budget The FFY15 budget and appropriations process seems to be moving forward under the construct of the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA), which set spending caps for discretionary spending for both FFY 2014 and 2015. Both the House and Senate are moving forward with the appropriations process based on these spending caps. While the House Budget Committee has proposed some changes, including significant cuts to education, as well as to how the Pell Grant program is funded, the Senate Budget Committee has no plans to move the House plan forward, meaning that the BBA remains the budget law of the land. That being said, individual programs are still subject to the appropriations process, but generally are getting funded at or near pre-sequestration levels.

The President’s FFY 2015 Budget was released in early March and proposed to level-fund (or provide nominal increases to) most programs, with a few exceptions. This budget is not likely to see a vote on the House or Senate floor. Portions of the President’s Budget of interest to NASSGAP members include:

  • No funding for College Access Challenge Grants (CACG) – mandatory funding of $150 million annually expires with the upcoming award of FFY 2014 funds. While CACG was previously funded with discretionary funding, that option seems to have gone away, although CACG is not listed in programs proposed for consolidation or elimination.
  • The Administration proposes a new program of great interest to NASSGAP members, establishing a State Higher Education Performance Fund - $4 billion in mandatory funding to match states $1 for $1 if they:
    • Have strong credit transfer agreements
    • Offer career pathways programs for HS students and working adults
    • Award state aid primarily based on need
    • Improve transparency for students and families researching return on college investment
  • Another new Administration proposal is the $7 billion College Opportunity and Graduation Bonus, which would pay colleges for graduating Pell recipients, not just for providing access to college, better aligning the interests of student, taxpayer, and institution.

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