NAICU Washington Update

Introduction by Barbara Mistick

October 15, 2021

This week’s Washington Update includes a story on the Department of Education reestablishing an enforcement office to increase oversight of postsecondary institutions that participate in the federal student loan, grant, and work-study programs. While this is our only story this week, my letter includes several important updates.

  • Congress extended the debt limit until early December, avoiding a self-inflicted economic crisis, at least for now, and setting up the finish line for this fall’s budget negotiations. The new debt limit is estimated to be reached at about the same time as the continuing resolution keeping the government funded expires on December 3. Congress will need to consider both the FY 2022 appropriations bills and another debt limit extension by then.

    Congress is currently negotiating how to pass the physical infrastructure plan and the “Build Back Better” reconciliation package by October 31, although all four of these measures could end up being combined at the end of the year in some sort of grand bargain.

    To get the votes needed, congressional leaders are now working to find an agreement on how to lower the total cost of the reconciliation package from $3.5 trillion to an estimated $2 trillion. Conversations among Democratic leaders have toggled between what can be cut, and what must be funded to secure votes. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) wrote her caucus asking members to think about how they could “do fewer things well” versus reducing the amount of time all proposals can be funded to meet the lower threshold.

    NAICU would argue that to “do fewer things well,” Congress should prioritize significantly increasing the Pell Grant maximum in the higher education portion of the reconciliation bill. Your continued advocacy in support of doubling Pell is getting noticed on Capitol Hill and by the White House, so we must keep up the noise.
  • New federal rules on vaccine and testing requirements for large employers are close to being finalized. The rules, which were developed by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration to implement President Biden’s COVID-19 action plan, were sent to the White House for final review this week. Once approved by the White House, the rules will require private employers with 100 or more employees to mandate that employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing.
  • The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights issued a letter reminding educational institutions of their obligations to support students with mental health disabilities. The Department also released a fact sheet that provides information about federal resources and legal protections for students with mental health disabilities.
  • We were happy to see the fact sheet released by the White House regarding the historic investments in Historically Black Colleges and Universities during this Congress. HBCUs continue to play a vital role in their communities, states, our sector, and our nation. For all Tribal Colleges and Universities in our sector, the executive order issued by White House could not have better captured the important role each plays and the significance they bring to the higher education community. We are proud to represent such a diverse sector and will continue to do what we can to share the value of that diversity.
  • The National Association of College and University Attorneys (NACUA) will offer a Continuing Legal Education Workshop on Unlocking the Path Forward for Higher Education Compliance. NAICU has joined several other higher education organizations in serving as a cooperating association in support of the workshop, which will be held virtually November 10-12. The schedule will focus on the emerging topics and enduring issues that will continue to shape college and university compliance, with a special look at challenges posed by the pandemic. The program is directed at campus administrators such as attorneys, compliance officers, risk managers, and others with significant responsibility for college and university compliance.

Double Pell

“Over my last 102 years, I have seen the power of higher education to transform the lives of students. For more than 50 years, Pell Grants have helped students attend the college of their choice and make their dreams become a reality. Begin the process (to double the Pell Grant) now. Visit the double Pell website and take action.”

Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, BVM, Loyola University Chicago

I know I have been encouraging you to take action with your elected officials and your campus community in support of doubling the Pell Grant since the summer. If you’re getting tired of hearing my voice and reading my exhortations, I encourage you to listen to the wise words of Loyola University’s Sr. Jean in this video appeal the school released earlier this week! Sr. Jean may be best known for her support of Loyola’s men’s basketball during the team’s recent NCAA tournament runs. Hopefully soon, she will also be well-known for her support for doubling the Pell Grant maximum!

I’d also like to highlight the dedicated website Loyola developed to showcase student support for doubling the Pell Grant. This is a great way to engage students and highlight what increased Pell Grants would mean for them and their families. Thank you to Loyola President, and NAICU Student Aid Committee member, Dr. Jo Ann Rooney, for her institution’s leadership in this important national initiative.

Our member institutions continue to find creative ways to get students involved in advocating for doubling Pell. This week, we were introduced to an effort that brought Pell advocacy into the classroom. Adrian College’s Andrea Salor, chief of staff, Office of the President / assistant secretary to Board of Trustees, teaches a master’s level course in Administration and Leadership for Higher Education. Last week during her class, students were taught the history of the Pell Grant and its importance in providing access and affordability to low-income students. This week, they were assigned a “Call to Action” project in which they chose a method to advocate for doubling the Pell Grant. The students responded with letters and videos that were sent to members of Michigan’s congressional delegation.

Finally, I hope you’ll read this op-ed from NAICU Board Chair and University of Puget Sound President Isiaah Crawford that appeared in the Tacoma (WA) Times Tribune this week in support of doubling Pell. These opinion pieces carry such important weight in your communities and among the readership of these publications. I hope you all will continue to add your voice to this important effort.

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

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