There was something for every interest at the NASFAA Leadership and Legislative Conference and Expo Monday, as attendees followed their track-specific programming before merging for the conference’s annual Legislative Symposium.
This year’s Legislative Symposium gave attendees varied insight into Americans’ perceptions of higher education, President Obama’s two years’ free community college proposal, and the federal funding landscape.
Ajita Talwalker Menon, senior policy advisor for higher education on the White House Domestic Policy Council, gave conference attendees perspective on the context behind America’s College Promise, the proposal to make two years of community college free for qualified students in eligible programs.
“This is not something we see just as a solitary proposal in isolation,” Menon said. “We see it as an important anchor to complement the president’s higher education agenda.”
Part of the reasoning for the proposal was to encourage more state and local efforts surrounding college affordability, she said. That would be an important development, another panelist, New America’s Higher Education Research Director Ben Miller, said.
“The best thing about free community college is it costs money … for states in a very specific way, which I think hints at our only path forward for college affordability long term,” he said.
Currently, there are no federal programs that provide states with financial incentives to continue to fund higher education, as there are in other policy areas, which has created a “Wild West funding atmosphere,” Miller noted. The community college proposal would keep states on the hook to cover a quarter of community college tuition and fees costs, in order to receive a grant from the federal government for the remaining 75 percent.
Since its release, the proposal has generated misconceptions, questions, and myths, noted the session’s third panelist, David Baime, senior vice president of government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.
“By talking about the free community college tuition, people have responded as if community college students and higher education in general are not receiving any subsidy whatsoever,” Baime said. “We’ve heard a lot of ‘Nothing’s free.’ Clearly the government … is contributing a lot more money to higher education than people appear to think.”
Monday’s closing session delved into just how much the federal government is contributing to higher education. Joel Packer of the Committee for Education Funding walked attendees through the specifics during “Federal Education Funding: Cuts, Caps, Sequesters and Squeezes.”
“There is no more ‘fun’ left in federal funding for higher education,” Packer joked, as he outlined appropriations for fiscal year (FY) 2015 and President Obama’s budget requests for FY 2016.
Among the budget items, Packer noted the president has proposed changing the Perkins Loan Program to an unsubsidized loan with the same interest rates as Stafford loans. Savings from that change, coupled with savings from proposed changes to Pay As You Earn (PAYE), could bridge a pending shortfall in the Pell Grant Program in future years, as well as index the maximum award to inflation, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) beyond 2017. Addressing both issues comes with a steep price tag- estimated to be nearly $60 billion over the next ten years.
Today, many conference attendees will head to Capitol Hill to talk about the importance of federal funding for student aid, among other topics. Check back in with Today’s News Wednesday for a recap of the Hill visits.
Publication Date: 3/3/2015