Reporter’s notebook

  • Senate to finally vote on Kvaal
  • CUNY nixes hold on transcripts due to debt
  • Helping with book and tool costs

Senate to finally vote on Kvaal

The Senate will finally vote on the nomination of James Kvaal to serve as U.S. education under secretary after a key Democrat stalled the process for months in order to pressure the Biden administration to move forward with broad student debt cancellation. The Senate will likely have a floor vote when it returns from recess in mid-September.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in April advanced Kvaal’s nomination by a 19-to-3 vote. During his confirmation hearing on April 15, Kvaal called on states to contribute more toward public higher education in order to to help contain college costs for students.

Kvaal previously served at the U.S. Education Department, the Obama Domestic Policy Council and most recently as president of the Institute for College Access and Success. He has broad support in the higher education community to serve at the department’s top higher education post.

“Considering the importance of the federal role in higher education, it is critical that the position of Under Secretary be filled by someone with the judgment, experience, personal commitment, and vision necessary to succeed in this role,” the American Council on Education wrote in an April 26 letter encouraging the Senate to vote for Kvaal. The American Association of Community Colleges was among more than 40 organizations signing the letter in support.

But Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) blocked a quick confirmation as she pressed the administration over its plan to handle $1.6 trillion of federal student loans. According to Politico, Warren last week dropped her opposition, saying the administration pledged to make substantial reforms to the loan program.

CUNY nixes hold on transcripts due to debt

The City University of New York (CUNY) announced on Wednesday that it will stop the practice of holding transcripts for students with outstanding debt to CUNY institutions, and that it also will lift financial holds for students affected by the pandemic.

CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez has immediately suspended a long-held policy that bans CUNY schools from releasing official transcripts of students and graduates who owe the university unpaid tuition and fees. Separately, he has directed CUNY colleges to lift financial holds on approximately 74,000 students who were enrolled during the semesters of the Covid pandemic, clearing the way for them to register for the fall semester even if they owe outstanding tuition and fee balances to CUNY.

“Releasing student transcripts and eliminating financial holds, regardless of a person’s financial status, is the most pragmatic and compassionate way forward in this challenging climate,” Rodríguez said in a release. “These actions continue the push to keep all CUNY students moving ahead on a path toward success.”

The measures are intended to work in tandem with the CUNY Comeback Program, an initiative announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month to forgive some $125 million in unpaid institutional debt for at least 50,000 students and recent graduates.

Helping with book and tool costs

Gadsden State Community College in Alabama will tap its federal Covid recovery allotment to help students with their book expenses.

The college’s Book Assistance Program will save Gadsden State students up to $500 during the full fall semester as well as the mini terms. The program can cover required textbooks for academic, health science and career technical courses as well as required tools, including cosmetology kits, welding hoods, electrical tolls and hospital scrubs.

“Studies show that approximately 65% of college students will forgo buying at least one textbook because of the cost,” said President Kathy Murphy. “We want to ensure that our students have the required textbooks and tools they need to be successful students and graduate from Gadsden State with a credential that will better their lives as well as the community.”

About the Author

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