Reporter’s notebook

Photo: Matthew Dembicki

  • College organizations seek COVID-19 limited liability protections
  • Senators ask ED for FAFSA changes
  • Dems pitch $50B childcare bill
  • DOL Job Corps Scholars grants include community colleges
  • Senate hearing next week focuses on colleges reopening

College organizations seek COVID-19 limited liability protections

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) has joined other higher education organizations in asking Congress to quickly provide to colleges and universities temporary liability protections related to the pandemic.

AACC signed on to a May 28 letter to House and Senate leaders asking Congress to safeguard higher education institutions and related organizations from “excessive and speculative lawsuits arising out of the pandemic” as campuses begin to open. Colleges and universities are concerned about potential pandemic-related lawsuits, even when they “have done everything within their power to keep students, employees and visitors safe,” according to the letter.

“To blunt the chilling effect this will have on otherwise reasonable decision-making leading to our nation’s campuses resuming operations in a safe and sensible manner, we ask that Congress quickly enact temporary COVID-19-related liability protections for higher education institutions and systems, affiliated entities, as well as their faculty, staff and volunteers,” it said.

Senators ask ED for FAFSA changes

A bipartisan group of Senators is asking U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to update the federal student aid application process to factor in hardships students are facing due to the pandemic.

With fewer students applying for federal financial aid than last year at this time, the senators wrote in a May 27 letter that the Education Department (ED) should provide student aid officers more flexibility in regards to recalculating financial aid eligibility for students whose family finances have abruptly changed.

The lawmakers also asked the department to make certain changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and its website. For example, ED should add a temporary question to the FAFSA for the 2020-2021 award year and the 2021-2022 award year that asks, “Was your income significantly reduced due to the COVID-19 emergency?”

In addition, the senators requested the department find other ways to inform students and parents that their financial status could alter their student aid eligibility.

“At a time when students and their families across the country face economic uncertainty, the Department and institutions of higher education must do everything they can to ensure that students do not fail to matriculate or stop-out of their programs of study because they are unable to access the resources needed to do so,” the letter said.

Dems pitch $50B childcare bill

Democrats on Wednesday introduced a $50 billion childcare bill to financially help childcare providers, which will be critical as parents return to work at physical locations. The measure would, in part, provide tuition and co-payment relief for working families, and prioritize providers who serve underserved populations.

The Child Care is Essential Act would create a $50 billion Child Care Stabilization Fund within the existing Child Care and Development Block Grant program. It was introduced by House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee Chair Rosa DeLauro (Connecticut), House Education and Labor Chair Bobby Scott (Virginia) and Senate HELP ranking member Patty Murray (Washington).

“This legislation is more than a proposal to save childcare; it is an essential step to support working families and responsibly restart our economy,” Scott said in a press release.

DOL Job Corps Scholars grants include community colleges

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) on Thursday announced that it will award 20 grants totaling nearly $24 million as part of the Job Corps Scholars Program, a new demonstration project that will provide at-risk youth with job skills instruction, educational opportunities and job counseling.

The grantees are mostly public two-year colleges that will serve Job Corps-eligible youth and young adults ages 16 to 24. All of the grants are for approximately $1.18 million.

“As we look towards defeating coronavirus and reopening our economy, the Job Corps Scholars Program provides an innovative way to prepare at-risk youth for participation in the job market,” Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said in a press release. “Combining job training, classroom education, and employment counseling will give participating young adults an opportunity to excel.”

The colleges this fall will begin to provide services throughout each student’s participation in the 12-month career technical training component. The students also will receive up to 12 months of job counseling after they complete the program.

The pilot will provide DOL with insights to improve the effectiveness of the Job Corps program.

Senate hearing next week focuses on colleges reopening

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a virtual hearing on June 4 featuring presidents of three four-year institutions and the executive director of American Public Health Association. The committee plans to have another hearing on June 10 focused on K-12.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.