- Debt-ceiling deadline looms large
- New NPRMs from ED
- Focus on community college agriculture workforce programs
- Funding opportunities
Debt-ceiling deadline looms large
President Joe Biden and Congressional leaders have continued meeting this week to negotiate legislation for raising the debt ceiling. This is an issue of national importance. If the United States defaults on its loans, which could occur as earlier as June 1, it could be devastating for all Americans and the broader economy. It would also be unprecedented, meaning that it is difficult to predict a default’s direct impact on higher education and community colleges.
Unlike in a shutdown, the federal government would remain open during a default period. However, it would significantly scale back its operations due to an inability to borrow and could only pay out existing obligations with cash on hand. This means that tradeoffs will be made around which programs are prioritized and funded. Many programs will likely have to wait until more revenue comes in or the debt ceiling is raised to receive their total due in appropriated and mandatory funds.
Depending on the length of a default period, the disbursement of federal student aid could be affected, especially since most financial aid is distributed to students and institutions at only two points during the year. The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) is carefully monitoring debt-ceiling negotiations and will provide guidance to colleges on how a default will impact student and institutional aid.
New NPRMs from ED
The U.S. Education Department last week released a new slate of Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (NRPM), a critical step following last year’s negotiated-rulemaking table. Following a 30-day comment period, the rules are expected to go into effect on July 1, 2024. The proposed regulations cover ability-to-benefit, administrative capability, certification procedures and the highly anticipated return of gainful employment (GE) – key rules governing federal student aid eligibility for Title IV-eligible programs. Items of interest for community colleges include:
- Administrative capability: Stricter requirements for colleges to provide career services and financial aid counseling to students receiving Title IV aid.
- Certification procedures: New requirements prohibiting institutions from withholding a student’s transcript or taking other adverse actions against students who owe balances as a result of error or fraud in aid administration or a due to Return of Title IV funds requirements
- Gainful employment: This rule holds close to what was discussed during last year’s negotiated rulemaking and the previous iteration of GE implemented during the Obama administration. However, the proposed rule includes new reporting requirements, performance measures and financial value disclosure requirements that will be costly and burdensome to implement. AACC outlined what the proposed GE regulations will mean for community colleges.
AACC is reviewing all of the proposed regulations and will provide comments to ED.
Focus on community college agriculture workforce programs
Policymakers last week introduced the Community College Agriculture Advancement Act. The bill was introduced in the House by Reps. Trent Kelly (R-Mississippi), Saul Carbajal (D-California) and seven other bipartisan cosponsors. In the Senate, the bill was introduced by Sens. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado), Deb Fischer (R-Nebraska), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) and Todd Young (R-Indiana).
The legislation represents a major step forward in acknowledging the role of community colleges in building the agriculture workforce. For decades, universities have been tightly stitched into the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) research activity, while community colleges have not received support or acknowledgment as key partners, hurting the nation’s agricultural activity as a result. This legislation will amend the National Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching Policy Act of 1977 to authorize new USDA capacity-building grants for community college agriculture, agrobusiness and renewable resources programs. The bill would initially authorize the program at $20 million, but that funding level could grow and respond to demand and need in each appropriations cycle. AACC strongly supports the bill and is eager to work with policymakers to see it included in the 2023 reauthorization of the Farm Bill.
Applications are open for key community college funding opportunities:
- Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISI) Program – Due May 30
- Native American-Serving Nontribal Institutions (NASNTI) Program – Due June 12
- Building Pathways to Infrastructure Jobs Grant Program – Due July 7 for the first round
If you missed it earlier this week, there’s a recording of the AACC-hosted webinar with Department of Commerce officials on funding and partnership opportunities available to community colleges through the CHIPS and Science Act.