Friday, July 9, 2010

Appropriations bill moves; Financial aid changes explained; Federal reports available; Veterans legislation introduced

U.S. House passes supplemental appropriations bill, heads to Senate

Late last week the U.S. House of Representatives passed a supplemental appropriations bill which provides funds for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and disaster relief. The House passed an amendment to the bill which includes funds to cover $4.95 billion of the Pell Grant shortfall and $10 billion to help save K-12 education jobs; higher education was not included in this appropriation.

Unspent funding for programs including Race to the Top, the Public School Charter and the Teacher Incentive Fund programs were rescinded and savings were applied to off-set the cost for the Pell Grant shortfall. Due to this, the White House has issued a veto threat.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration; however, the Senate is not expected to take up the legislation before July 13, when Congress returns from Independence Day recess. The summer recess for Congress has been moved up one week to begin August 2.

Federal financial aid changes

Chris Halling, system director for student financial aid, has prepared an update regarding the changes to federal financial aid programs. One of those changes includes direct lending. All new student loans for loan periods beginning after July 1, 2010 are being made through the Federal Direct Loan Program. Halling reports that the transition seems to have been relatively simple since most of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities institutions have already been making Direct Loans and have offered assistance to those who are new to the program. It remains unclear until the start of fall semester if the U.S. Department of Education will be able to handle the increased volume.

Starting no later than summer 2011, two major changes will be made to the Pell Grant program; a student may receive two scheduled awards within a single award year if they attend fall, spring and summer terms; and the summer award must be calculated twice using both the current year formula and student information and the upcoming year formula and student information. The student must be given the larger of the two awards.

Other changes include the discontinuation of the Academic Competitiveness Grant and SMART (Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent) grant programs as of June 30, 2011; all schools are required to develop, publish, administer and enforce a code of conduct with respect to Title IV student loans; and all schools are required to post a "Net Price Calculator" on their web site by Oct. 29, 2011 to provide potential students with information on school costs and basic financial aid.

Federal reports available online

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities has released a new policy brief entitled, State Outlook: Fiscal and State Policy Issues Affecting Postsecondary Education. The brief provides an overview of fiscal conditions and higher education issues forming state policy, including a review of state economic conditions and budget outlook; state budget pressures; state budget realignment strategies; employment and the higher education premium; recessionary impacts on state higher education finance, policy and programs; recessionary impacts on higher education institutions; and other higher education state policy issues in the mix. You may view the report here.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has issued a report on state funding for higher education for fiscal years 2009 and 2010. The report provides a comparison of higher education spending across states and provides an impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act , or ARRA, funds on state higher education spending. The report can be found here.

Veteran legislation introduced

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, introduced S. 3447, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010. The bill is scheduled to be heard in committee July 21.

The bill includes expanding eligibility under the Post-9/11 GI Bill to National Guard and Reserve members serving full-time under Section 502(f) of Title 32 in response to a national emergency. The bill also changes the Post-9/11 GI Bill definition of "institution of higher learning" to allow those institutions currently excluded (i.e., vocational institutions and other non-collegiate institutions) to receive benefits under the bill.

The bill proposes removing the tuition and fee benefit charts for each state and creating a new metric for benefit eligibility. Veterans enrolled at public institutions would receive up to the established charges for the program in which they were enrolled; veterans enrolled at private for-profit and not-for-profit institutions would receive the lesser of either the established charges for their program of study or a newly created national average.

The bill also adds an additional monthly stipend and housing allowance for on-the-job training; adds a new payment category for programs taken exclusively via correspondence/online; and adds a new formula to calculate a books/supplies allowance for active duty service members.

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