Government Relations

Government Relations Legislative Update

Government Relations Legislative Update

Updates on state and federal issues relating to the UW System.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Federal Update for January 30, 2012

The U.S. Senate reconvenes today and is scheduled to consider bipartisan legislation to ban insider trading by Members of Congress (S. 2038). The House will reconvene on Tuesday, January 31, but no legislative program has been announced.

Meanwhile, House and Senate negotiators continue working on a compromise for extending beyond the end of February the payroll tax holiday, unemployment benefits, and the "doc" fix that prevents a significant cut in Medicare payments to physicians. The three provisions were extended for two months in late December.

President Obama outlined his overall spending and policy priorities for the year in his State of the Union address on January 24 (see UW System Federal Update for January 26, 2012). The Administration will provide agency and program details when it releases the President's FY13.

Further, in a speech the President gave at the University of Michigan last week, he introduced a plan to use federal campus-based aid programs—College Work Study, Perkins Loans, and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants—and new competitive funding programs to motivate state governments and higher education institutions to improve college affordability and value for students. The plan would not affect Pell Grants.

As described in a White House fact sheet, the plan would:

• Change the formula for campus-based aid to one that "shifts aid from schools with rising tuition to those acting responsibly, focused on setting responsible tuition policy, providing good value in education, and ensuring that higher numbers of low-income students complete their education." The plan would raise federal Perkins Loan funding from the current $1 billion to $8 billion;

• Create a $1 billion grant competition, "The Race to the Top: College Affordability and Completion," to "spur systematic state reforms to reduce costs for students and promote success in our higher education system at public colleges." This would include aligning K-12 education and college standards and maintaining "adequate" levels of higher education funding "in order to address important long-term causes of cost growth at the public institutions that serve two-thirds of four-year college students;"

• Institute a separate $55 million competition, "First in the World," for individual colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations to "develop, validate, or scale up innovative and effective strategies for boosting productivity and enhancing quality on campuses." This would include redesign of courses with greater use of technology, early college preparation activities, and competency-based approaches to earning college credit; and

• Create a "College Scorecard" for each degree-granting institution to give students and families more information in such areas as costs, graduation rates, and potential post-graduation earnings, and make it mandatory, rather than voluntary, for institutions to provide information for a "Financial Aid Shopping Sheet," aimed at making it easier for families to compare financial aid packages.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report that found 209 programs across 13 federal agencies aimed at encouraging students to study and attain degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The programs frequently overlap, said the report, but fewer than half of the programs coordinate with similar efforts. GAO was careful to note that overlapping programs are not necessarily duplicative. The report recommended that the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) develop a strategy and plan for federal STEM education programs, including how to share information across agencies and evaluate the programs based on their outcomes.

(AAU and the UW System Office of Federal Relations contributed to this report.)