Federal Relations

By Cynthia A. Littlefield, Vice President for Federal Relations, AJCU

Overtime Rules Released

Last week, the Department of Labor released final regulations on overtime payment for employees of businesses, institutions of higher education and non-profit organizations. Overtime regulations have not been addressed for a number of years, and the Obama Administration wanted to give additional funding for employees whose incomes are below $47,476 and would now be eligible for overtime pay. The Department originally scheduled a compliance date for September 2016 and pushed that back to December 1, 2016.

Of concern to colleges and universities is the lack of time to integrate these new levels of funding on campus, particularly when budgets were drawn up months ago. Employees who will be impacted include those in the mid-management range, e.g. student aid administrators, admissions officers and athletic trainers. Institutions with many post-doctoral fellows (post-docs), the backbone of research efforts on campuses, will be impacted substantially. Many institutions may very well raise the salary level for post-docs in order to avoid paying overtime funds. Other institutions may alter salaries to hourly rates or other alternatives in order to minimize the financial burden.

This rule will place a difficult burden on colleges and universities to resolve before December 1, and there will certainly be serious considerations for tuition increases, salary reductions, or possible lay-offs to accommodate the regulations. While AJCU does not have the figures yet for costs to Jesuit institutions, an example put forth by CUPA-HR (College and University Professional Association for Human Resources) realized a cost of $115,000 on average for each campus in a sample of thirty-five institutions. Look for more on this issue throughout the year.

Transgender Student Guidance

The Departments of Justice and Education released Transgender Student Guidance this past week that applied to all of education, including private institutions of higher education. This guidance was propelled by a recent initiative proposed by the North Carolina State Legislature that mandated that students must utilize the restroom of their original gender identity at birth. This case will have to be resolved by the court system, but because the Departments of Education and Justice have released official “guidance," institutions have to take this issue seriously.

The guidance goes beyond the main points of the North Carolina case and reminds institutions that Title IX violations also include discrimination against gender identity biases. Institutions are encouraged to review best practices including specialized training of staff and correct usage of pronouns. 

Religious-affiliated institutions do have recourse to apply for an exemption, but such institutions would have to be “controlled” by a particular church; this is not the case for Jesuit institutions, much less other denominational colleges. AJCU and the higher education community will continue to analyze this issue in coming months with sensitivity for all concerned, not just students, but for the entire workforce on our campuses.

Pell Grant Surplus—Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

The 2017 Appropriations process is now in full gear, with the Senate planning the Labor, H&HS and Education Subcommittee mark-up on June 6, followed by the House Subcommittee on Labor, H&HS and Education in mid-June. At stake is the $7.8 billion Pell grant surplus funding which appropriators want to pay for other programs beyond Pell grants such as NIH grants and ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) block grants to other potential areas. 

AJCU and the higher education community have sent letters to the Hill opposing using the Pell grant surplus funding for other purposes beyond Federal student aid. Pell grant funding has often been difficult to project depending upon demographic changes to Pell-eligible high school students who may or may not attend college. In leaner years, particularly during the recession, Pell grants had shortfalls that were finally taken care of in reconciliation with the addition of mandatory funding. The Budget agreement at the end of last year for FY16 and FY17 set caps in place for discretionary spending which has been difficult for appropriators to utilize since there are limited increases over the prior year.

Another issue of importance to AJCU is the preservation of the Campus-Based Aid programs, such as the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (SEOG), Federal Work Study (FWS) and the Perkins Loan program. This past spring, AJCU and higher education led the effort to secure signatures from 75 members of Congress for a letter that was sent to the appropriators in support of funding Campus-Based Aid.

AJCU is encouraging Jesuit institutions to push for SEOG funding and to push against using the Pell grant surplus for other programs beyond student aid. Look for appropriations efforts to culminate in a Continuing Resolution (CR) at the end of September to keep the Federal government running until Congress returns after the National election in November.