NAICU Washington Update

Introduction by Barbara Mistick

December 10, 2021

Dear Colleagues,

While the churning in Congress showed no signs of abating this week, progress was made on several important measures. Top among them was a convoluted agreement among Senate leaders that will allow the debt ceiling to be extended until after the 2022 midterm elections. That plan looks likely to pass, with only Democratic votes, before the December 15 deadline set by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

This week’s Washington Update covers several stories impacting higher education, including a deal struck by House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee leaders that sets the pathway toward passing a desperately needed technical amendment fix that would allow pandemic-related flexibilities to remain in place for the rest of the academic year. The deal also contained several other needed adjustments, including to the rounding up rule and the incentive compensation rule.

Also, the National Defense Authorization Act appears ready to be approved without a series of very problematic restrictions for higher education. The positive outcome on both of these bills has taken the collective work of the higher education community throughout this past year.

You can read more about these issues, as well as updates on the status of the federal contractor vaccine mandate and information about the creation of a new negotiated rulemaking committee focused on institutional and programmatic eligibility in this week’s issue.


  • Congress is still debating the Build Back Better (BBB) reconciliation bill but now finds itself under a new, December 31, deadline. That is the date in which the child care tax credit will expire. The deadline could slip to January 15, since that is the date that families will get their last tax credit payment. If all else fails, there could be a more straight forward tax extenders bill. The reconciliation process continues to move forward as the Senate parliamentarian is now reviewing all the BBB provisions on a committee-by-committee basis to see if they meet the strict rules regarding budget reconciliation. We are closely tracking the Senate HELP and Finance committees. Provisions in these two committees have not yet been reviewed to see which could be eliminated.
  • The negotiated rulemaking panel that is reviewing and proposing revisions to a number of federal higher education regulations is expected to conclude today. We have been deeply engaged in this critical process and will report to you next week on the panel’s outcomes.

But despite all the behind the scenes machinations, we will call it a great week for federal higher education policy because of the stunning results of a poll we commissioned on the Pell Grant program that I sent to you earlier this week (see below for more detail).

Double Pell

As “the Senate takes up Build Back Better, it is crucial that negotiators fully fund doubling the maximum Pell Grant, and give the 7 million students who rely on the program — more than 450,000 of them in New York State — the support they need to pay for college. Amid different proposals for increased access to college, doubling Pell Grants is the best way for Congress to support all students working toward a college degree —whether at a two-year community college, a four-year public university, or at a four-year, private, nonprofit university.”

Pace University President Marvin Krislov in an op-ed that appeared last week in New York via the USA Today Network

Earlier this week, NAICU released findings from a national survey of registered voters showing incredibly strong support for the Pell Grant program overall and even greater support for doubling the grant. 

Among the key findings:

  • 65% of voters say they support the Pell Grant program, and not only is support high, but opposition is almost non-existent: just 5% of voters say they oppose it (30% don’t know).
  • While 65% of voters support Pell, the number increases to 87% when respondents were provided a brief amount of information about the program. The support jumped 22%, while the opposition remained virtually the same (5% to 7%). Those initially unsure about Pell move to support (73%).
  • 75% support “doubling” the Pell Grant and 82% support “expanding” the grant.
  • Majorities of Republicans support increasing Pell no matter how it’s phrased (77% “expand”; 66% “double”), and Democratic support in the two questions is nearly identical (91% “expand”; 88% “double”).

The findings also include positive results regarding the messages we are using in the #DoublePell campaign. At least two-thirds of voters found each of the eight tested messages to be “convincing” or “very convincing.” Those that resonated the most focused on the themes of increasing eligibility and access to the Pell Grant program. 

We have shared these findings with Members of Congress and their staff, the Double Pell Alliance, and others in the broader higher education community. I hope that you will find ways to use the data in your communications with your representatives and campus community. 

The findings truly reinforce what we’ve seen on campuses nationwide for decades and that is the transformative impact the Pell Grant can have for millions of students and families.

Thank you for your continued engagement with this important effort.

Barbara K. Mistick, D.M.
President, NAICU

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