By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter
On Tuesday Rep. Susie Lee (D-Nev.) participated in a Facebook Live roundtable on supporting Nevada higher education — particularly community colleges — during COVID-19, which included discussions on higher education workforce development programs as well as the current state of congressional negotiations for another aid package. Though the roundtable focused on institutions in just one state, it gave insight into what colleges and universities may be grappling with in the months to come.
Lee, a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor, opened the discussion by revisiting the federal aid provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to institutions of higher education, and highlighted how schools were able to utilize the federal funding to provide for wrap around services which included child care and counseling services for students.
The forum was joined by representatives from the College of Southern Nevada (CSN) — including its president, Dr. Federico Zaragoza, who highlighted what challenges the institution would face without the administration of additional federal aid.
“What’s scary for us though, is that obviously we're now in a scenario where we will not have those federal offsets and local offsets,” Zaragoza said, in reference to congressional negotiations stalling, leading schools to possibly contend with using the CARES Act as a one-time resource. “So for us, we may be looking at an additional budget reduction going forward, at a time where we have to expand programs.”
This level of uncertainty for additional aid has created new challenges, not just for Nevada’s higher education programs but for the industry as a whole.
“We're challenged in our ability to respond,” Zaragoza said. “This could translate [to] the capping of courses, this could translate to us not having the kinds of programs that our students are calling for, and more importantly, not having the kind of pathways into these new jobs.”
While Lee is calling for additional aid, pointing toward funding levels provided in House Democrats’ latest proposal — the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (Heroes) Act — she also endorsed recent executive actions taken by President Donald Trump, which would extend payment and interest relief for student loan borrowers.
“I welcome that, I'm glad he's done that,” Lee said. “I believe that the secretary of education will be able to implement that, but also I feel that we need to continue to work on the Heroes Act and extend those deferrals for a whole other year to help our young people.”
In addition to advocating for House Democrats’ proposal, Lee recently introduced and pushed for Congress to consider the Community College Workforce Training Act, which would restart a workforce development program implemented during the 2008 recession, meant to prepare community college students for a changing workforce due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As a member of the Education and Labor Committee I've been committed to dealing with student debt, helping our local and our state higher ed institutions,” Lee said. “But most importantly, especially at this time, making sure that we're helping our students, evolve from this pandemic and be able to access jobs of tomorrow.”
Publication Date: 8/19/2020
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