U.S. Negotiations Run Aground Over College Outcomes, Year-Round Pell Grants

May 14, 2009

WASHINGTON -- Negotiations over possible new regulations to carry out a range of changes in the Higher Education Act ended in acrimony Wednesday amid disagreement about proposed reporting of college outcome measures and the availability of year-round Pell Grants. The negotiation that concluded Wednesday, which covered general non-loan issues, was one of five that the Education Department has been conducting since February to gather recommendations from higher ed professionals and others about how it should carry out changes Congress made to the law with the Higher Education Opportunity Act last summer. (Another, on accreditation issues, resumes next week.) The general session covered an enormously wide range of issues, from fire safety and campus crime to peer to peer file sharing (and even some student aid matters!), and the negotiators reached agreement on the vast majority of them. But most college officials on the panel fought an effort by Education Department officials on the negotiating team to adopt regulatory language that would require colleges to make public job placement rates for any program on their campuses that calculates them, and to publish the methodology used to calculate the rate. College administrators objected that the department's approach went well beyond the more "illustrative" information about alumni satisfaction and student outcomes that the Higher Education Act renewal (after significant negotiation) called on colleges to produce, and many of the negotiators refused to sign off on the language, dooming the talks to a conclusion without "consensus." Negotiators representing two-year and four-year public colleges also balked at a proposal that would require students to have completed 24 hours of academic credit during an academic year to qualify for continuing Pell Grant funds during the following summer, saying such an approach would hurt their students.

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