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Representative Rosa DeLauro (right), a Democrat from Connecticut, chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

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The House Appropriations Committee is planning to mark up an initial draft of its funding bill for federal higher education programs on Thursday for fiscal year 2022. The bill largely aligns with President Biden’s budget and includes substantial increases to student financial aid and science research.

Over all, the legislation provides $27.2 billion for federal student aid programs and another $3.43 billion for higher education programs, an increase of $889 million from fiscal year 2021 and $122 million above Biden’s budget request. The bill would increase the maximum annual Pell Grant award by $400, as well as boost funding for the National Institutes of Health to $49 billion -- up $6.5 billion from fiscal year 2021 -- and funding for career, technical and adult education to $2.2 billion.

The Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies subcommittee sent the bill to the full committee along a party line vote Monday. Representative Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma, said he was supportive of funding increases to the NIH and increases to the Federal TRIO program and Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP).

But the bill's current form is unlikely to be its final form, given that Republicans weren’t happy with the overall spending levels in the legislation and the inclusion of Democratic priorities -- particularly the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, a provision that bars the use of federal funds for abortions, which Cole and others highlighted during the subcommittee markup.

“With the bill proposing the highest spending levels since World War II, the price tag alone is utterly unrealistic,” Cole said to Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut and chair of the subcommittee. “Madam Chair, you know the Democrats in Congress do not have the majorities capable of passing this bill on their own. In the days and weeks ahead, it’s my hope that members on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers can negotiate spending that won’t lead to financial disaster. But the first step towards that negotiation will be a full reinstatement of the Hyde Amendment.”

Parts of the bill go beyond what Biden requested, especially with respect to financial aid. It would provide $1.03 billion for the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program and $1.43 billion for the Federal Work-Study program, which would be a combined $392 million above fiscal year 2021 funding levels. Higher education organizations praised the significant increase, with Deborah Santiago, president and CEO of Excelencia in Education, highlighting its importance for Latinx students, in particular.

“When I looked at the student financial aid increases, they were in grants and work-study -- and those two are core areas for the Latino population that make a significant impact on our ability to afford college,” Santiago said. “To see the increases at that level was powerful.”

The bill would also increase the maximum Pell Grant award by $400 to $6,895, the same as what Biden requested in his budget. An increase in the award is necessary for renewing the country’s commitment to low- and moderate-income students, said Mamie Voight, interim president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

“Now more than ever, we need to restore the purchasing power of the Pell Grant by doubling the maximum award,” Voight said. “The proposed $400 increase in the draft funding bill is one step in the right direction.”

Doubling the Pell Grant has broad support, and others were hoping for more immediate action from Congress, rather than taking the Biden administration’s approach of increasing its funding over time, said Jonathan Fansmith, director of government relations at the American Council on Education.

“A $400 increase is still a substantial increase in Pell Grants, and in a normal year, we'd be strongly supportive of that,” Fansmith said. “But this has been a year in which there's so much momentum towards doubling, and it's a little bit short of what we hoped to see.”

While the organization appreciates the included increase, Craig Lindwarm, assistant vice president for congressional and governmental affairs at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, noted that APLU is also in support of doubling the Pell Grant and would eventually like to see the administration’s plan for getting to that point.

Minority-serving institutions would receive a total of $1.13 billion, an increase of $345 million from fiscal year 2021. Historically Black colleges and universities would receive $402.6 million, Hispanic-serving institutions would receive $236.7 million, and tribal colleges and universities would receive $53 million. All the funding levels align with Biden’s budget request.

"We are pleased that the draft fiscal year 2022 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies funding bill makes significant investments in HBCUs, predominantly Black institutions and low-income college students regardless of where they are enrolled," said Harry L. Williams, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which represents public Black colleges.

The bill also provides funding for specific higher education programs, including $8 million for a basic needs grant pilot program, $95 million for institutions to establish campus-based childcare programs -- up $40 million from last year -- and an increase of $55 million to $100 million to expand the Strengthening Community College Training Grants program, the latter of which was praised by David Baime, senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.

“The substantial enhancement of Strengthening Community College Training Grants will enable colleges to respond to the rapidly changing economy and help generate family-sustaining wages,” Baime said.

Outside of funding levels, the bill also includes language requiring for-profit institutions to derive more of their revenue from nonfederal sources -- 85 percent rather than the current 90 percent -- and would make students who are recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, eligible for Title IV financial aid funding.

“Providing access for undocumented students is a really important measure that APLU supports,” Lindwarm said.

Even if the legislation passes the narrowly Democratic-controlled House as is, its highly partisan nature means there’s unlikely to be consensus in the Senate. The likely outcome is a large omnibus spending package signed into law toward the end of the year, as has recently been the case, said Fansmith.

“It looks very good -- maybe even better for higher education than the president's budget,” Fansmith said. “As a starting point, they have the right priorities funding-wise. But it's hard to envision this being the bill that gets finalized and signed into law.”

But although the funding so far looks good for higher education, there's always more that could be done, said Santiago.

"I feel like that's a greedy thing to ask for, but I do know that when times are challenging -- especially economically -- we want to provide access to opportunity," Santiago said. "And the federal role is providing access to opportunity and quality education."

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