This year your ASG visited the congressional offices of Senator Barbara Boxer, Senator Diane Feinstein and Congressman Scott Peters. They advocated for three main student-related issues on your behalf:
(1) Pell Grant Funding
(2) DREAM Act
(3) Student & Family Tax Simplification Act
(1) PELL GRANT FUNDING
INCREASE THE PELL GRANT MAXIMUM AND RESTORE ELIGIBILITY FOR ATB STUDENTS
For community college students, the Federal Pell Grant program remains by far the most
important student aid program. Pell Grants assist more than nine million postsecondary
students each year, and approximately one-third of these students attend community
colleges. Pell Grants represent the federal government’s commitment to ensuring that qualified students from all income levels are able to afford college.
Pell Grants play a more prominent role in community college student financing than in other sectors for two primary reasons. Community college students, on average, have the lowest incomes, and they also pay the lowest average tuitions—in the fall of 2013, $3,264 for a fulltime, full-year student. This means that Pell Grants cover a greater percentage of college expenses for community college students than for students attending other types of institutions. Grants help to minimize student borrowing; only 17% of all community college students take out a federal loan.
The Pell Grant program is on solid ground for FY 2014, and received an inflationary increase that brings the maximum award to $5,730 for award year 2014-15. This increase of $85 over the 2013-14 award year is in part determined by the cost of living increase formula set by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 that will bring the Pell Grant to $6,100 by 2017-18. Last week the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) provided welcome news for the Pell Grant in the form of updated budget estimates for 2014 to 2024. The CBO now projects total funding needs for the Pell Grant program to be lower in the current fiscal year and for the next few years thereafter than previously estimated. The current surplus will remain through FY 2015 – a year longer than previously projected – and FY 2016 has a more manageable shortfall of $990M. For FY 2017 and beyond, the shortfall remains between $3-7 billion per year.
In 2012, Congress made changes to the Pell Grant program in order to generate savings for the program and to close a funding shortfall. These changes included the elimination of all new “ability-to-benefit” (ATB) student eligibility. These students lack a high school diploma or GED, yet have proven their ability to benefit from college-level coursework either through the successful completion of classes (six credits) or by passing a test. Almost half of all ATB students attend a community college. Given the fiscal climate for FY 2014, reinstatement of federal aid eligibility for ATB students was not feasible. However, the appropriations process for FY 2015, as well as the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, will provide opportunities for Congress to reexamine this issue. It is essential that community college student leaders advocate on behalf of these students.
In addition to the elimination of new ATB students, Congress also reduced the number of
full-time semesters that a student may receive Pell from 18 to 12. AACC and ACCT
recommend that Congress raise the limit to at least 14 semesters since many current and
former community college students require additional time to complete their degrees.
Additionally, reinstatement of a “year-round” Pell Grant would greatly benefit community college students seeking to complete their degrees in a timely manner.
While it is important to advocate for changes to the Pell Grant program that would benefit community college students, federal fiscal challenges remain. With a multi-billion dollar Pell shortfall in FY 2016 and beyond, Congress will have to increase discretionary funding or look for potential savings through changes to eligibility or award levels. Potential changes to eligibility would likely have a greater, and harmful, impact on “non-traditional” students. Some of the changes Congress may consider include: tightening academic requirements for initial or continuing eligibility; eliminating students who attend college less than half time from eligibility; increasing expected family contribution levels; and reductions of maximum or minimum grant amounts.
Congress should maintain and fund the proposed increases to the Pell
Grant Program and adopt the Senate Appropriations Committee’s FY 2014
Labor, HHS, Education bill language that restores Title IV eligibility for
“ability-to-benefit” students in career pathway programs. We also
encourage Congress to reconsider the semester limit placed on Pell
eligibility and raise it to 14 semesters rather than the current 12 semesters.
Information provided by:
American Association of Community Colleges (AACC)
Association of Community Colleges Trustees (ACCT
(2) DREAM ACT
“Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act”
Community colleges continue to press for enactment of the Development, Relief, and
Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. Despite longtime residence in the U.S., many
undocumented individuals face tremendous difficulties enrolling in or paying for college and finding employment. The DREAM Act would alleviate this situation by granting qualified undocumented students conditional legal resident status. These students would be able to achieve permanent legal status by completing two years of higher education or military service within six years. From there, they would be on a path to citizenship. Only those students who were brought into the country before they were 16 years old and who have resided in the country for at least five years at the time of the DREAM Act’s enactment would be eligible. The DREAM Act also repeals a provision of federal law that essentially bars states from granting in-state tuition to undocumented students. Current federal law states that any residency-based benefit extended to undocumented students must also be provided to any U.S. citizen. Twelve states have circumvented this provision by extending instate tuition to undocumented students based on factors other than residency (i.e., graduation from a high school within the state).
The Latino support for President Obama in the 2012 election and the demographic trends
that make winning support from this group even more important in the future have revived the prospects for immigration reform in the new Congress. President Obama has indicated that it is one of his top priorities for his second term. The DREAM Act, as one of the least contentious of the various immigration issues, very likely would be included in any reform packages, or possibly move on its own. Though the electoral landscape has moved many Republicans to be more open to immigration reform, there are still many others in the party that remain adamantly opposed to anything that looks like “amnesty” for undocumented people, so progress will not necessarily come easily.
Last June, the Senate approved S. 744 the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” which contained the DREAM Act and allows those who qualify under the act to apply for Lawful Permanent Residency after 5 years as a Registered Provisional Immigrant.
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act
provides a path to legal status for thousands of undocumented students
who were brought to this country as children, worked their way through
high school, and now face an uncertain future. The DREAM Act returns to
states the decision of whether to extend in-state tuition to undocumented
students. The House of Representatives should pass S. 744 the “Border
Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.”
Information provided by:
American Association of Community Colleges (AACC)
Association of Community Colleges Trustees (ACCT
THE STUDENT AND FAMILY TAX SIMPLIFICATION ACT
Tax-based aid represents more than half of all non-loan federal aid, playing an important role in promoting college affordability, access, and completion. The Student and Family Tax Simplification Act sponsored by Congresswoman Diane Black and Congressman Danny K. Davis found surprising agreement among politically-diverse stakeholders about the problems of and promising reforms to tax-based education benefits. The Student and Family Tax Simplification Act is a bipartisan effort to implement much needed changes.
Education tax experts described current education tax benefits as complex and poorly
targeted. The greatest agreement centered on creating one credit for current education
costs to improve the simplicity, awareness, and use of tax benefits. Stakeholders highlighted that the complexity of multiple benefits makes it difficult for taxpayers to understand whether they qualify for a benefit and which benefit best meets their needs. Indeed, a study by the Government Accountability Office showed that 1.5 million tax filers who qualified for either the Tuition and Fees Deduction or the Lifetime Learning Credit in 2009 did not claim the credit or deduction; another 237,000 did not claim optimal benefits. To improve the effectiveness of the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), both conservative and progressive stakeholders urged policymakers to target benefits to low- and moderateincome taxpayers whose college enrollment and persistence decisions are more sensitive to cost.
Simplification. The Student and Family Tax Simplification Act simplifies education benefits by consolidating the Hope Tax Credit, the Tuition and Fees Deduction, and the Lifetime Learning Credit into the AOTC, creating a single credit for current educational expenses. The AOTC has many elements that make it the strongest tax incentive to promote college access and completion; it is the most-used credit, focused on undergraduates, available for 4 years, and partially refundable. The bill also extends the AOTC permanently rather than allowing it to expire in 2017 and preserves the value of the credit over time by adjusting for inflation starting in 2018, an important provision given that college expense have risen much quicker than inflation for many years.
Better Targeting. The bill creates an improved, more robust credit for low-income students in multiple ways.
- It adopts the upper phase-out limits for the Hope tax credit adjusted for inflation, which focuses aid on families whose incomes are in the bottom 80% of income distribution. The bill also doubles the current phase-out range for single filers from $10,000 to $20,000 and for joint filers from $20,000 to $40,000 to create a more gradual phase-out of the benefit and to reduce the effective marginal tax rate associated with the phase-out. These changes phaseout the credit for single tax filers between $43,000 to $63,000 ($86,000 to $126,000 for joint tax filers).
- It expands aid to low-income students by increasing the amount of credit available and removing obstacles to claiming the credit. This bill increases the maximum refundable credit from $1,000 to $1,500. It also changes the process of awarding the credit from covering a proportion of total eligible expenses to covering the first qualified expenses. Currently, a family would have to have $4,000 in expenses to claim the $1,000 refundable credit; under the new bill, low-income families could claim the full $1,500 refundable credit after only $1,500 in eligible expenses, greatly enhancing the effectiveness of the credit for low-income families.
- It allows students to combine Pell Grants and AOTC to address unmet financial need. Due to poor coordination between Pell grants and the tax code, an estimated 1 million college students with unmet financial need do not receive any benefit from the AOTC, with the vast majority of these students attending low-cost institutions such as community colleges. The bill improves coordination between the AOTC and Pell without double counting the same expenses as well as excludes Pell grants from taxation to simplify compliance.
Cost. According to the Joint Committee on Tax, the Student and Family Tax Simplification Act would cost $6.4 billion over 10 years.
The Student and Family Tax Simplification Act makes much needed
improvements to programs that were designed to help students and their
families pay for higher education costs. The provisions of this bill relating
to simplification, targeting and cost will make the programs more
accessible to the lower income students they were designed to help while
raising the phase-out limits which also help the middle class. With sponsors
from both parties for this bill ASACC encourages the House and Senate to
pass this act before the 2014 mid-term elections to demonstrate their
commitment to higher education and assisting families with the rising costs
of higher education.
Information provided by
The Offices of Representative Diane Black (R-TN) and Representative Danny K. Davis (D-IL).