Senate Continues Higher Education Investments in Low-Income Students

July 18, 2013

By Marcie Foster

Last week, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) marked up and passed a bill to provide continued funds to a number of essential student aid and education programs that help low-income students access and succeed in postsecondary education. The bill, passed on a straight party line vote, also targets key goals of reducing college costs and increasing college completion rates. Specific provisions include:

  • Providing $250 million for competitive grants under the Race to the Top—College Affordability and Completion fund. These grants would provide an incentive to states to adopt policy reforms designed to reduce costs for students and families and to improve postsecondary completion rates. (Funding for this program was originally proposed at $400 million, but $150 million was transferred to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in the full committee markup.)
  • Increasing the maximum Pell Grant to $5,785 (from its current level of $5,645) for the FY14-15 academic year. This increase is supported by a surplus in funding for the program from previous years, though a shortfall for the program is expected to return in FY15.
  • Prohibiting colleges and universities from spending federal funding received through the Higher Education Act (HEA) on advertising, marketing, and recruitment, while continuing to permit the use of other funding for these activities;
  • Ensuring that students who are in programs that require licensing or other credentials are well-equipped to obtain gainful employment upon completion of their program. The bill addresses this by requiring these types of programs to meet State licensure requirements and programmatic accreditation in order to be eligible for funding under HEA.
  • Expressing support for the principle of reforming the allocation formulas for the Federal Work Study and the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) programs to redirect funds to lower-priced institutions and those that graduate higher numbers of Pell-eligible students. The bill, however, does not include language to implement this recommendation.

The Senate appropriations bill reflects a commitment to helping low-income and disadvantaged students—an increasing number of whom are adult students—obtain the postsecondary education they need to get better jobs and advance in their careers. However, the bill does not take action to restore the damaging eligibility cuts made in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, which included eliminating aid to students without a high school diploma or its equivalency who are able to demonstrate their ability to benefit from postsecondary education. This is despite the continuing efforts of Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), who last year succeeded in partially restoring this “ability to benefit” option in the final Senate LHHS appropriations bill.

While the Senate appropriations bill was passed by the full Senate Appropriations Committee last week, Congress can only appropriate funds through a budget process that requires both the House and the Senate to pass bills and come to an agreement on overall and specific spending levels for these programs. Such action is unlikely, given the latest indication from the House Appropriations Committee that spending levels for non-defense discretionary programs will be as much as 18.6% below current levels. Therefore, it is likely that these programs will be funded under a continuing resolution in the fall, which would continue current funding levels, as adjusted by the sequester.

Supporting more Americans to obtain a postsecondary education continues to be one of the strongest tools we have to reinvigorate the nation’s labor market and economy, giving workers the skills and credentials they need to qualify for family-supporting jobs. CLASP supports the Senate’s commitment to America’s workforce through investments in postsecondary education and encourages Congress to strengthen the focus on meeting the needs of the growing share of working, adult, often part-time students filling college classrooms across the country.

View more details on the Senate approved FY14 spending on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and related agencies >> 

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