NAICU Washington Update

Introduction by Barbara Mistick

October 22, 2021

Washington has been on pins and needles this week as Congressional Democrats appear to be inching closer to a deal on the “Build Back Better” reconciliation package. While nothing is in writing yet, the latest news is that Democrats are coalescing around a spending total between $1.75 trillion and $1.9 trillion, down from the original $3.5 trillion. Lowering total spending to that level means programs are being cut, modified, or eliminated.

We are starting to hear what those modifications might look like. For example, last night on CNN, President Biden indicated that the $500 increase for the Pell Grant maximum will be included in the plan. Additionally, it has been widely reported that the free community college proposal is not going to be included in the final version.

However, the fate of the other higher education proposals, including the various tax provisions, is still up in the air. While free community college may be out, there have been reports of the bill including a new community college scholarship program that may or may not refer to something within the Pell Grant program, such as the $500 increase. There has also been concern reported about how much funding is included for HBCUs, TCUs, HSIs, PBIs, and other MSIs. Finally, we are still waiting to hear about the inclusion of college completion grants and funding for teacher education programs. 

Your continued efforts in support of the Double Pell advocacy campaign are being heard. In addition to the possible $500 increase in the maximum grant in reconciliation, this week the Senate proposed to add $400 to the maximum grant in the regular appropriations bill. This $400 increase could be added to the program regardless of what happens in reconciliation although nothing is certain in the current chaotic climate and this is just another example of why continued advocacy on doubling Pell is essential.

The next deadline for Congress to meet is October 31, when the short-term extension for surface transportation funding expires. This relates to the physical infrastructure bill, which Democrats have paired with reconciliation for voting purposes. To meet that deadline, Congress and the White House need to finalize negotiations on the reconciliation piece within the next ten days. 


  • The Biden Administration is also moving forward with discussions on how to smoothly transition borrowers into repayment after the student loan repayment pause ends on January 31, 2022. Guidance should be shared soon on this matter.
  • The Senate approved Catherine Lhamon to serve as the Department of Education’s Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights in a 51-50 vote. Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tie-breaking vote to break the deadlock over the controversial nominee, who previously served in the same position during the Obama Administration and has been a lightning rod for criticism over the role she played in aggressively enforcing Obama-era Title IX policies on campus sexual assault.

This week’s Washington Update includes stories on the increases in student aid contained in the draft Senate spending bills, the approaching deadline for eligible schools to apply for second chance Pell, and the release of cohort default rates by the Department of Education, including the 30-day time period for appeal, which started on October 5. You can read more about these and several other issues below.

Double Pell

“The Pell Grant is an essential tool for (helping low-income students pursue higher education). I know because I was one such student, whose ability to attend college more than 30 years ago was made possible by a combination of Pell Grants, institutional financial aid, a work study job, and loans. My college education transformed me and opened doors of opportunity I otherwise would not have had. As the president of a private college, I am not only grateful for what my Pell Grant support afforded me, but I also believe that more students today should have access to those same opportunities. For that to happen, federal investment in education provided by Pell Grants needs to increase.”

Suzanne M. Rivera, president, Macalester College (MN)

It has been so energizing to read the stories from students around the country about the impact the Pell Grant has had on them and their families. It has been just as rewarding to read about the impact the Pell Grant has had on several of our member presidents. The quote above from President Rivera was from her recent op-ed in Minnesota supporting an increase in the Pell Grant maximum. These personal stories are so incredibly powerful and resonate so strongly with policy makers and their staff, many of whom were also Pell recipients. 

If you’re thinking of writing an op-ed or generating media coverage in support of increasing the Pell Grant, the Double Pell Alliance, which NAICU is a part of, is hosting a webinar on November 12 that will highlight strategic communications practices and tactics that will help your institution get involved with the national #DoublePell campaign. I hope you and/or your communications team will be able to join and participate. As a reminder, NAICU has also created a suite of resources, including op-ed templates, to help with engaging in this effort. 

Similarly, the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association created and sent a Give ‘Em Pell DoublePell toolkit to its membership containing talking points, and social media graphics, videos, and content. This is a great way to get more colleges and universities and their students engaged in the campaign.

Thank you for your continued support of federal student aid and increasing the Pell Grant maximum. We’ve made great progress the past few months but we still have work to do.

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