Higher Education Quick Takes
Late Wednesday the U.S. Senate passed legislation aimed at requiring colleges to be more transparent about how they serve veterans. The bill, which was approved during gridlock on Capitol Hill, had received broad support from veterans' groups, for-profit institutions and advocates for traditional higher education. First introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Florida Republican, the legislation was less sweeping than a related Senate bill that quickly stalled.
Congress still has not reached a deal to avert the combination of tax increases and spending cuts -- collectively known as the "fiscal cliff" -- that go into effect Jan. 2. Either a compromise on long-term deficit reduction and tax reform, or the spending cuts that will go into effect if a deal is not reached, will have big implications for federal financial aid and scientific research, as well as other programs important to higher education.
The spending cuts, known as sequestration, are required by the Budget Control Act, the compromise that increased the federal borrowing limit in August 2011. If Congress does not reach a deal, most domestic discretionary programs will be cut by 8.2 percent, including funds for federal research and for some financial aid programs, such as federal work-study. (The Pell Grant is exempt from the cuts in 2013.)
Also on Jan. 2, several tax breaks related to higher education will expire, chief among them the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which currently provides a tax credit of up to $2,500 for college tuition for up to four years. If not renewed, the tuition credit will be limited to two years and will drop to $2,000. The limit for contributing to Coverdell education savings accounts wil drop from $2,000 to $500 per year, and student loan interest will not be deductible for higher earners.
But colleges have found something to fear in proposed compromises as well -- especially those that suggest limiting charitable deductions, part of President Obama's plan to increase tax revenue.
Even if Congress does not reach a deal in time, few expect immediate effects at colleges, as an agreement in 2013 is likely to be retroactive.
Bobby Ukrop, a longtime supporter and trustee of the University of Richmond has quit the board amid debate over the institution's plan to replace soccer and track teams with lacrosse, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. He resigned after the board refused to reconsider the decision.
Official statistics from the National Collegiate Athletic Association suggest that steroid use is rare in college athletics. But an Associated Press investigation has found that many football players routinely gain 30 pounds or more of muscle a year, without any skepticism from their teams about possible steroid use. The investigation by the AP combined data on football players' weight with interviews with players and other experts, who described the ease with which athletes can escape detection for steroid use.
Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, will remain chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in the next Congress, Harkin announced Wednesday. "I intend to move forward with bills to ensure that all Americans are able to achieve the promise of a quality education – beginning in early childhood, continuing through elementary and high school, and culminating with higher education," Harkin said in a statement.
The board of the District of Columbia voted Wednesday to fire Allen L. Sessoms as president, The Washington Post reported. A statement read by the board chair said that the trustees decided to go "in a different direction," but did not provide details. During the four years Sessoms was president, he helped create the university's community college -- a step many have said was long overdue for Washington. But Sessoms has been criticized for his travel expenses, and he has of late been proposing plans for significant budget cuts, including layoffs.
Reports of sexual assaults at the three U.S. military academies are up 23 percent this year, the Associated Press reported. Nearly half of the 80 reported cases involved victims who sought medical assistance but who did not seek investigations of the incidents.
A group of faculty members and other educators across a variety of institutions are calling on financial services organization TIAA-CREF, which oversees pension plans for 3.7 million individuals, including many higher education faculty members, to divest from companies that manufacture the types of rifles used in the shooting last week in Newton, Conn., and the shooting in Aurora, Colo., in July. TIAA-CREF invests in the two companies, Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Co., as part of indexed investment strategies designed to replicate performance of market indexes. The push comes on the heels of the announcement by private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management that it would sell its stake in another weapons manufacturer. A spokesman for TIAA-CREF declined to comment on the group's request.