By Cyndy Littlefield, Vice President for Federal Relations, AJCU
The nineteenth AJCU Federal Relations Conference was held at the U.S. Capitol on September 22nd. We had an excellent turnout of 34 government relations and financial aid administrators from Jesuit colleges and universities.
As AJCU always strives for bipartisanship, Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA), Majority Whip of the U.S. House of Representatives, joined us during our morning session to relay the latest information on the Continuing Resolution (CR) to avoid government shutdown, and funding for Pell grants and campus-based aid programs. On the Democratic side, Representative Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), a Jesuit alumnus of the College of the Holy Cross, discussed Pell Grants, as well as his perspective on Jesuit education. DeSaulnier, along with Representative Juan Vargas (D-CA), started the Friends of the Jesuit Colleges and Universities Caucus last year.
Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) was an important topic, as critical Professional Staff from the House and Senate authorizing committees briefed us on the latest developments. All of the panelists agreed that working on smaller HEA bills, as opposed to one big bill, was the best current strategy for reauthorization. Contentious programs, such as campus-based aid programs, would be considered at some other point. Staffers from Senator Patty Murray's (D-WA) office (Ranking Member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee) reiterated her continued support for Perkins Loans.
In the afternoon, tax counsels from the House Ways & Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee briefed our conference attendees on higher education tax issues. Neither panelist was able to guarantee that next year would be the definitive year for tax reform, and both expressed concern over college costs and endowments. Endowments remain an issue of concern for the House with regard to tying reserved funds to student aid. Government relations and financial aid administrators explained to the counsels why using the endowment reserve fund for student aid would be very difficult to do.
The day before the AJCU Federal Relations Conference, we joined the Committee for Education Funding (CEF), the largest education coalition in the U.S., for their annual Legislative Conference and Gala. The CEF Conference featured two panels, one focusing on the American public's overall thoughts on education, and the other on the evolution and future of education policy. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT, Jesuit alum, Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor H&HS and Education) also spoke at the conference, and shared the latest news on the Continuing Resolution.
During the gala, CEF honored Representative Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) for his many years of service on the House Education & Workforce Committee, as well as Representative Tom Cole (R-OK), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, for his efforts to support education funding. CEF also honored Tom Skelly, former director of the budget service at the U.S. Department of Education, and Joel Packer, who recently retired as executive director of CEF, and has spent 40 years of service as an education advocate.