By Cynthia Littlefield, Vice President for Federal Relations, AJCU

Xavier University President Rev. Michael J. Graham, S.J. with Former Speaker John Boehner on October 28th.

Xavier University President Rev. Michael J. Graham, S.J. with Former Speaker John Boehner on October 28th.

Push for Student Aid Highlights AJCU Congressional Breakfast

Three weeks after the AJCU Federal Relations Conference, AJCU delivered another successful outreach effort through the October 28th Congressional Breakfast on Capitol Hill, attended by AJCU presidents and government relations officers, as well as 32 members of Congress from both the Senate and the House. This breakfast focused on Federal student aid issues, including saving Perkins loans. Karen Larios, a senior at Georgetown University who receives extensive student aid, was a featured speaker. AJCU awarded former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, John Boehner, with an appreciation award for his years of public service as a member of Congress. Speaker Boehner spoke eloquently of his earlier years and how the Jesuits helped him to complete his degree from Xavier University.

Following the AJCU Congressional Breakfast, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, spoke to the Jesuit presidents and government relations team. He continued to reiterate his opposition to extending the Perkins Loan Program (since the cost is $550.1 million) and suggested, as he has in the past, that Perkins loans be considered part of the Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization. The problem is that Perkins loans cannot operate under the normal order of business for consideration because the program expired on October 1st. Chairman Alexander also stated that he believes new HEA legislative language will be distributed at the beginning of next year. AJCU remains grateful for the opportunity to dialogue with Senator Alexander and Representative Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX), Ranking Member on the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and the Workforce. Congressman Hinojosa reiterated his strong support for campus-based aid programs.

For more photos from the AJCU Congressional Breakfast, please click here.

Why Saving Perkins Loans is Critical for HEA Reauthorization

The Perkins Loan Program lost its authorization on October 1, 2015. Yet, efforts by AJCU and other higher education associations to save it continue at a frenetic pace. Currently, there is a national effort for associations and institutions to support and sign a letter that will be sent to Congress to extend the reauthorization of the Perkins Loan Program. The hope is to secure enough signatures to sway Congress to attach H.R. 3595, The Higher Education Extension Act of 2015, to an appropriations bill or another legislative vehicle.

There is a growing sense of urgency for Perkins loans because the U.S. Department of Education will, in all likelihood, soon send guidance on how to begin the process of returning the Perkins loan revolving fund from each campus. It is rumored that a few institutions across the country have already begun the process of sending funds back to the Department. AJCU does not recommend that at this time. At this point, institutions of higher education are in a difficult position of “working” the Perkins loan extension on Capitol Hill as the Department of Education moves forward to begin the process of collecting the revolving funds. 

The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is in line ahead of HEA reauthorization. During the week of November 16th, conferees on ESEA will be chosen in the House and Senate; December 2nd is a target date for consideration on the Floor. It is possible that President Obama could sign the final ESEA agreement in mid-December, which would provide more time to focus on HEA reauthorization.

There are many more issues of concern to AJCU related to HEA reauthorization, such as saving the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) program, but most pressing for higher education is the need to save Perkins loans. There are other riders to the appropriations bill such as one for teacher preparation regulations, which will soon be released, and other issues such as gainful employment and credit hour. AJCU will continue our advocacy efforts to protect those critical student aid programs that provide more access for our nation’s neediest students.