By Deanna Howes Spiro, Director of Communications, AJCU
If a liberal arts education is to truly live up to its name, then it must include the arts. Through theater, music, dance, sculpture or painting, exposure to the arts helps students to understand humanity at its core.
It also helps students to use their imaginations, an important dimension of Jesuit teaching. As part of the Ignatian practice of contemplation, one is encouraged to use their imagination to visualize Jesus, often in scenes from the Gospels. This is central to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, as explained by Rev. Kevin Burke, S.J. in The Ignatian Tradition*:
“Imagination is not primarily geared to help us escape from reality. On the contrary, it orients us to reality. We use the imagination to construct images (real images) of the world (the real world). As with the Exercises, so too with the entire spirituality that flows from them: early Jesuits in Europe wrote plays, painted masterpieces, and built churches; Jesuit missionaries in Paraguay taught Guaraní Indians how to make violins and play them. They engaged imagination to build a world for faith.”
Today, Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States are home to vibrant performing arts centers and studios, where students have opportunities to study with gifted faculty and staff, and to collaborate with fellow students. But the schools are also serving their communities through art, much like the early Jesuits, through partnerships with local elementary schools and city beautification projects. In this way, they are building a world for faith and justice.
Our schools would not be where they are today without the imagination and creativity of Jesuits, faculty and students past and present. We celebrate their contributions in this issue of Connections, and invite you to contemplate how their stories inspire you and your faith.
*Excerpt quoted from page 99
By Maura Sullivan Hill, Freelance Writer
Susannah Strang might be the sole fine arts professor at Arrupe College of Loyola University Chicago, but she is making sure that creating art is part of the culture in Maguire Hall. Between the two art classes she teaches, the growing extracurricular opportunities, and the faculty in other departments integrating art and creativity into their classes, every student interacts with art during their time at Arrupe. To Strang, it is an essential part of the students’ experience.
“Arrupe is enormously rigorous, and to have the physical and bodily engagement and the sensory involvement of an art class—playing with color and the openness of experimentation—is rewarding in such different ways,” she explains. “Everybody who is in undergraduate and graduate work knows that most learning happens from the neck up. Actually doing things with our bodies changes our experience of other stuff, as well. And I think [making art] just feels really good.”
For students at Arrupe, Loyola’s two-year college, the practice of learning fine art alongside the sciences and humanities flows from the University’s Jesuit identity. “Our curriculum has always included a fine arts course as part of the liberal arts core requirements, in keeping with a tradition of Jesuit education that dates back to 1599,” says Jennifer Boyle, Arrupe’s associate dean for academic affairs. “Professor Strang understands that art offerings are conducive to the active, culturally responsive, and collaborative learning environment we seek to create at Arrupe College.”
All Arrupe students take an arts seminar as one of their graduation requirements. Last fall, Strang offered the first studio art class, 2-D Foundation Studio, which she will teach again this summer. Elsewhere on campus, an art club is in its early stages: sophomore Esther Sosa Alonso is one of the founding members. For Alonso, making art is both a creative outlet and a stress reliever. “I want to do something with my hands and get creative,” she explains. “Every day, we are so used to being on our phones or being in the car, surrounded by things that have already been made for us, so I need an outlet. I was so oblivious to this—and the fact that people need it—before starting the art club.”
The turning point for Alonso was an evening event of art and meditation that Strang organized for all students. As a student in Arrupe’s associate of arts in business administration program, Alonso says that she is often in math classes, and that art is “a nice outlet that not only provides a de-stressor, but also makes you think differently. Strang has helped Alonso to change her perception of what can be considered art, by encouraging her to enter photos shot on her iPhone in the annual Arrupe student art show.
Strang’s art and visual culture seminar, the required course, combines art history with opportunities to create art through drawing and photography. Students in Strang’s 2-D Foundation Studio class went beyond the introduction provided in her seminar, learning about a variety of artistic mediums: drawing with pencils, charcoal, oil pastels, and chalk pastels; printmaking; photography; and principles of graphic design.
While students praise her approach, Strang is quick to compliment her fellow faculty members for integrating art and creativity across disciplines at Arrupe. One of the pieces in this year’s student art show, for example, was initially created as a theology assignment.
“A number of my colleagues are finding interesting ways to bring active creativity into the classroom,” says Strang. “Students are getting [art] experiences beyond the studio classes, for sure.”
Freshman Lily Trevino hadn’t taken many art classes in high school and wasn’t even sure what the phrase “2-D Foundation” meant when she was placed in Strang’s class, but she was open to learning more about art. Throughout the class, she found that art gave her an avenue to express herself, whether through a self-portrait assignment or her final project on immigration.
“Because immigration is a huge topic that should not be taken lightly, I felt like I could express that in my art,” Trevino explains. “I drew the United States flag with different collage pictures representing the issue: Republicans and Democrats, the Mexican flag. I did a border with images to defend DACA and not separate families.”
This type of project fits perfectly with Strang’s goal as a teacher, which is to empower her students as creators.
“The umbrella idea for the class is, ‘How do you get your visual work to say something that you want to say, in the way that you want to say it?’” Strang explains. “(It is) feeling confident that the thing in your head translates in the art and means something to someone else. As an artist, you want to feel like you have a degree of control over what is being communicated.”
By Angeline Boyer, Assistant Director of Media Relations, Saint Peter’s University
For nearly 150 years, Saint Peter’s University has been located in Jersey City, situated to the west of the Hudson River, just across from New York City. Over the past few decades, Jersey City has experienced a revitalization, which has given way to a number of positive changes including the growth of a blossoming art scene.
The city is home to art galleries, art spaces, art schools, dance companies and much more. In 2013, the Mayor’s office took the city’s appreciation for art a step further when it established the Jersey City Mural Arts Program (JCMAP). JCMAP, funded by a Clean Communities Grant, links established and emerging local, national and international mural artists with property owners, as part of an innovative city-wide beautification program. The program reduces graffiti, engages local residents, and is transforming Jersey City into an outdoor art gallery.
Saint Peter’s University has been involved with the Jersey City Mural Arts Program in more ways than one. In October 2017, the University unveiled a commissioned mural on its campus that was developed in an effort to celebrate the legacy of the arts at Saint Peter’s. The piece was created by world-renowned Italian street artist Peeta, on an outer wall of Rankin Hall, which houses the Saint Peter’s University Department of Fine Arts. The façade of Rankin Hall was selected to give the fine arts building a better visual identity on campus, and the goal of the project was to inspire students and the community with original art.
The mural was just one of the inspirations for Saint Peter’s students to get involved with JCMAP. When Stardaysha Santos ’21 took notice of her classmate, Alberto LaCava’s ’21, artistic skills in class one day, she recommended that he consider becoming a part of the JCMAP Youth Program. The Youth Program offers an annual opportunity for artistically-inclined young adults to create a piece under the direction of professional mural artists.
The participants learn about everything related to mural art, from concept development to design enlargement to spray paint techniques. Santos had already been involved with the program for a number of years and was eager to share it with others. LaCava was beyond excited about the prospect of being paid to do something he loved. “I felt like an angel was sitting next to me when Stardaysha shared this opportunity,” he said.
Last summer, LaCava (a communication and visual arts double major and a music minor) was hired for a position to work on a mural with the Youth Program. He was hired with a diverse group of more than twenty individuals under the age of 24, including students in college and students as young as 14. “The program is based not on age, but talent,” LaCava explained. “We all worked together to practice and give each other feedback.”
LaCava’s cohort operated under the direction of professional mural artists Duda Penteado and Catherine Hart. The result of this group’s efforts was the longest mural in Jersey City, entitled, “Heroes of the World.”
“For the project, we were all asked to identify individuals who [made] a positive impact on the world, or those who overcame negative circumstances to ultimately benefit their community,” LaCava explained. “Then, we decided as a group who would be featured on the mural.”
For his portion, LaCava selected Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo because of the cultural impact that both individuals made on the arts and sciences. “The fact that we still think of them and their work frequently demonstrates the influence that one mind can have on the world,” he said.
Other heroes featured on the mural include Nelson Mandela, Frida Kahlo, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Muhammad Ali, among others.
The final outcome and the experience itself proved to be extremely satisfying for LaCava. The program provides an excellent opportunity for young people to get experience working in the art world but, to him, the most rewarding part was hearing the feedback from the surrounding community while the group was working together.
“It was crazy how many people would comment on the project and would ask us questions as it progressed,” he said. “We even had community members stopping their cars and lining up in awe. I truly felt like we had the whole community supporting us.”
Although LaCava has a busy schedule as a double major and as a singer, songwriter and member of the band, We’ll Be Fine, he still hopes to work on another mural project this upcoming summer. He will interview for the program again in May.
Eugene J. Cornacchia, Ph.D., president of Saint Peter’s University, believes that the city’s embrace of the arts has benefited the University in a number of ways. “The rich tapestry of art and culture that exists in Jersey City adds tremendous value to the Saint Peter’s experience,” he said. “We take pride in our relationship with the city, and our work with JCMAP is an excellent product of that connection.”
By Peter Tormey, Ph.D., Editor of Gonzaga News Service, Gonzaga University
A focus on developing the whole person — mind, body and spirit — has been a keystone of Jesuit education since its founding half a millennium ago. Gonzaga University resoundingly affirmed the connection between creativity and problem-solving, when it unveiled the Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center last April. A magnet for talented arts students, the new facility and the University’s inspiring arts faculty contribute to Gonzaga’s rise as a national leader in arts education.
Miss Woldson celebrated her love of the arts and student success with a $55 million gift to Gonzaga in 2015 — the largest in University history — to fund student scholarships and build the 52,000-square-foot, two-story performing arts center. The building, together with the Jundt Art Center and Museum, form an arts village on the west side of campus, anchoring programs in music, theater, dance and the visual arts along the serpentine Spokane River.
Gonzaga’s President, Dr. Thayne M. McCulloh, says that the facility “lays the foundation for a new era of teaching and learning in the creative disciplines and the humanities at Gonzaga through the College of Arts and Sciences.”
No one is more excited about Gonzaga’s arts programs than its students. Read on to learn their stories:
Xander Claypool of Aurora, Colorado, is a junior theatre arts major with a concentration in technical theater, who aims to become a professional designer for live production work involving scenic and lighting design.
“Creativity has driven me my entire life,” says Claypool, who transferred to Gonzaga this year, due in large part to its theater and dance programs. “At Gonzaga, I have been surprised by the amount of support students receive from faculty throughout the entire educational experience, as well as the amount of empathy and human connection faculty members hold,” he says.
Claypool finds inspiration from “dedication, risks, and vulnerability that theater artists take in developing their work.” He’s on a never-ending search for fuel to stoke his creative fire.
“I am constantly trying to find art or creative things I can do or go to and see different forms of art, even if it’s something I know nothing about, to expand my exposure to creative work,” he says, noting that that includes new experiences to “grow as an artist however I can.”
Abigail Kirsten, a senior from Sammamish, Washington, studied civil engineering before switching to a double major in math and art. She chose to stay at Gonzaga because of its art program, small campus and friendly atmosphere. With a lifelong love and passion for art, she prefers the mediums of drawing and painting.
Kirsten finds inspiration from “people and hidden stories and facts about people, especially emotions.” She is doing her final art portfolio based on people and their emotions, and finds her work evolving toward larger canvases.
“I always love bigger pieces—I feel like I keep wanting to go bigger and bigger in my pieces,” says Kirsten. Upon graduating, she hopes to work in the preservation of historic buildings, possibly attend graduate school, and continue her artistic development.
Art, says Kirsten, has offered a tranquil respite from challenges including upper-level math courses. She explains, “The faculty are all so friendly and welcoming and provide a lot of artist talks and exhibits for the students and public.”
Karlee Ludwig of Spokane Valley, Washington, is a sophomore music major with a concentration in vocal performance, and minors in communication studies and political science. She says that the arts have always been an important part of her identity.
“The desire to sing and share in such beautiful music-making is so fulfilling,” she says. “Being a member of the wonderful choral community at Gonzaga is especially inviting because of its focus on community and its passion for social justice, encouraging a deep and meaningful space for growth both musically and as a person.”
Ludwig chose Gonzaga because of its mission to develop the whole person.
“It is unique for a university to encourage exploration in all areas of life and provide great depths of support in each space one may seek to discover,” says Ludwig, who is inspired by how Gonzaga students and faculty collaborate and engage with the broader community.
Passionate about social justice, Ludwig plans to attend law school and later become a constitutional lawyer with hopes to “make a difference within our political system.”
For Sophia Maggio, a senior from Everett, Washington, who is earning a double major in psychology and art with a minor in leadership studies, the arts are a personal outlet and a way to engage with the community. With a passion for drawing, she’s interested professionally in the intersection of the visual arts with psychology.
Appreciation is a word she uses to describes her time at Gonzaga.
Maggio says, “Throughout my time here, Gonzaga has continually challenged me, gifted me with beautiful friends and mentors, and encouraged me to seek joy, empathy and connectedness. As a freshman, I didn’t necessarily anticipate that these factors would evolve into my collective ‘why,’ but I think they form the basis of my appreciation for Gonzaga.”
Maggio looks for inspiration everywhere — always carrying pencils, paper and pens — and carves out time daily to draw, write or engage in a creative expression that “helps me kick-start or bookend the day.”
Maggio aims to complete a year of service before attending graduate school.
Helen Schantz (pictured above), a senior from Seattle earning a triple major in political science, French and dance, says that dance has always been where she has found her passion, community and opportunities for growth. She was drawn to Gonzaga because of its Dance for Parkinson’s program.
“My father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s during my junior year of high school,” she explains. “Aspects of the Jesuit mission, including the focus on service and the development of the whole person, are what led me to choose Gonzaga.”
Schantz finds inspiration everywhere, through “people, ideas and phenomena, and I explore those relationships through my art.”
And sharing dance reminds her of the power of art. “Teaching under-served elementary school students, people with Parkinson’s or my peers always brings me back to my true passions and aspirations,” says Schantz.
After graduation, she plans to teach special education in Nashville through Teach for America. She says, “I hope to be able to incorporate art into my future career and life, and to bring the arts to under-served people.”
By Kristin Agostoni, Assistant Director, Public and Media Relations at Loyola Marymount University
The children visiting Loyola Marymount University (LMU) last spring excitedly crowded around art tables to craft hundreds of “feathers” out of white sheets of paper. Nearby, their college-aged mentors were hard at work hanging the whimsical creations inside LMU’s Thomas P. Kelly, Jr. Student Art Gallery.
The piece – a mural of wings designed by guest artist and LMU alumna Amber Cromwell – served as a symbol of a successful partnership more than 10 years in the making. Called ARTsmart, the innovative program has allowed LMU students to develop an art curriculum and teach young students at an under-resourced K-8 Los Angeles magnet school.
“One of the benefits that LMU students bring to the school is not only their expertise, but their energy,” said ARTsmart Director Terry Lenihan, professor of studio arts in the LMU College of Communication and Fine Arts.
“There’s a real benefit to LMU: to have our students giving back to the community in a way that’s really positive,” added Lenihan, who focuses her research on K–12 and post-secondary art education, service learning, collaborative art and social justice arts education.
LMU’s ARTsmart partner is Westside Global Awareness School, a Los Angeles Unified magnet school in Marina del Rey with a focus on science, particularly environment and ecosystems. The school draws its roughly 400 students from across Los Angeles; state data show that about 80% of students enrolled are from economically disadvantaged families.
ARTsmart moved in Fall 2008 to what was then Westside Leadership Magnet, later renamed Westside Global Awareness. Since then, the program has made an impact on its young students, by providing a thoughtfully developed standards-based arts education, as well as ongoing mentoring services and support.
“I know that the student body as a whole looks forward to coming here, and the teachers do as well,” said Principal Cyril Baird, as his students and faculty members joined a celebration on LMU’s Westchester campus with ARTsmart instructors, campus leaders and Lenihan last spring. “Art is something that is sorely lacking. [Lenihan] has been our connection to that.”
A sculptor and installation artist, Lenihan is an advocate for arts education, who has served on the California Arts Council and the Arts Education Task Force, created by former state schools chief, Tom Torlakson. As director of ARTsmart, Lenihan oversees a program with a dual mission: ARTsmart offers underserved schoolchildren an education in the arts that provides the instrumental and intrinsic benefits necessary to becoming well-rounded, productive members of society.
There are growth opportunities for LMU students as well. LMU’s ARTsmart student volunteers, known as artist-mentors, are undergraduate students from a variety of backgrounds and academic disciplines. Through their teaching experience in the classroom, these students gain leadership and collaborative skills, self-confidence and an understanding of social justice.
“ARTsmart is just one of the many community outreach and service programs offered through the College of Communication and Fine Arts. It has critical and reciprocal benefits for both the young people we serve at Westside Global Awareness and for the LMU students who participate,” said LMU CFA Dean Bryant Keith Alexander.
“Each of these groups are enriched by the relationship between art, critical thinking and creative expression; skills that translate to and through all disciplines,” he added. “Our partnership with Westside Global Awareness is a realization of our University mission at work: the encouragement of learning, the education of the whole person, and the service of faith and the promotion of justice.”
LMU students involved in the program design weekly lessons around their topics of expertise, such as animation, engineering and printmaking. Their majors run the gamut from studio arts to business, graphic design to psychology, and art history to communication studies.
Oceanna Hain is an art education student who visited Westside Global Awareness for two hours, once a week, during the 2018-19 academic year. She enjoyed the opportunity to work with children before student teaching. She said, “I grew up loving my art classes. Knowing how important it is to me, I want to be able to give that opportunity to kids.”
“I’ve always wanted to do something artistic with my life,” said Westside Global Awareness seventh-grader Natalia Murillo, 12, as she and friends explored the LMU student art gallery during the campus celebration last spring. “I think ARTsmart definitely opens up my mind to the idea.”
Westside Global Awareness and ARTsmart students will gather again at Loyola Marymount next month for the annual art event. Click here to learn more about LMU’s ARTsmart program.
By Alix Hackett, Senior Digital Content Writer, Boston College
One of the most viral videos to come out of France’s 2018 World Cup victory was filmed long after the final whistle blew. In it, 80,000 joyous fans sing along as French rapper, Vegedream, belts out his hit song, “Ramenez la Coupe a la Maison” (English translation: Bring the cup home) surrounded by members of the French national soccer team. One American news outlet called it “the most iconic video of all time.”
Last summer, Boston College sophomore, Grace Assogba, found herself in the fourth row of a Vegedream concert in Paris, singing along to the World Cup anthem-turned cultural phenomenon. But for Assogba and her classmates, the event was more than just a fun night out: it was part of the syllabus for “Paris Noir: From La Négritude to le Hip-hop,” a four-week summer course exploring black identity in Paris through art, literature and film.
Each week, the eleven students enrolled in the course did assigned reading and attended classroom sessions, but they also went to concerts, heard from speakers, and visited museums and restaurants focused on black art and cuisine.
“We had so many moments where we were in class learning these things, but then actually going out and living them,” Assogba said. “It was a completely different cultural experience.”
For students interested in studying the African diaspora, European countries are rarely a destination of choice. Associate Professor Régine Michelle Jean-Charles, who taught the “Paris Noir” course, remembers feeling disappointed when her own parents insisted she study abroad in Paris instead of Senegal.
“In my mind, I didn’t associate Europe with black people,” she explained. “But when I went to France, there were people from Cameroon, Senegal, Togo—there were people from all over the African continent.”
In designing the course, Jean-Charles focused on the numerous and varied contributions people from Africa and the diaspora have made to Parisian literature and culture, and how those contributions have helped shape black identity in France from the 1930s to the present. Woven throughout were topics ranging from the history of immigration, to French rap, to diversity on the national soccer team.
Whenever possible, students learned through experiences, eating at African and Carribean restaurants and visiting book stores and shops owned by black proprietors. When studying how black figures have been represented in the visual arts, they visited the Musée d’Orsay for an exhibit on the topic.
“The experiential piece adds so much,” said Jean-Charles. “When I teach this class at Boston College in the future, I will, of course, talk about these paintings, but it’s totally different to see them in person.”
The opportunity to experience the culture she was learning about was part of the appeal for sophomore Bilguissa Barry, who is originally from Guinea. She said, “Every day, we were learning just by being in the city. Whenever we went to a place, we were analyzing it through an academic lens, thinking about the historical context. It was so different from being there as tourists.”
Throughout the course, Jean-Charles invited speakers of all backgrounds to address the class, including authors, journalists and activists. Of all the speakers, Assogba was most inspired by Assa Traoré, whose brother, Adama, was killed by French police in 2016, sparking a movement similar to Black Lives Matter.
“I literally had chills listening to her tell her story,” she said. “That speaks to the class because there were so many ways that we were engaged—from classroom discussions to museum visits to speaking to journalists. Every single aspect of learning was present.”
By Matt K. Johnson, News and Marketing Editor/Writer, Regis University
One day last year, Yuta Young was humming a tune while walking up the stairs at home, when he stopped cold.
He put down the plate of food he was carrying and pulled out his phone to record what he was humming. A few months later, that short recorded riff would become a song blasting in concert venues across Colorado and pumping through Spotify streams across the world.
As a songwriter, guitarist and vocalist for the alternative pop band Pacific Nerve, Young has turned his creativity into a collaborative journey that has changed the course of his young life.
“God gives you these talents, these great talents that you are blessed to have,” Young says. “And He wants you to use them to push forward His kingdom. … I think my pastor said this at church once — you don’t have to play Christian music to push [that] forth.”
The Regis University sophomore’s unexpected musical career started with a small step: a reply to a social media post. During Young’s freshman year of high school in Louisville, Colorado, Reilly Ng, an acquaintance Young knew from playing hockey, posted on Facebook a message about seeking people to play music with. Young, who had written a few songs and taken piano and guitar lessons, replied with an offer to play rhythm guitar.
Ng, a bassist, and Young started playing together, eventually adding a drummer, Ethan Knight, and lead singer, Griffin Tobey, to their group.
“It was actually a metal project; it wasn’t my thing at all,” Young remembers. “But I thought, if this is a way to make friends, then I’m down.”
By 2015, the group had become a performing pop-punk act called Rain in July, which would go on to perform at small venues throughout Colorado’s Front Range and open a show for national punk rock staple, State Champs. Ng stepped away from the band in Fall 2018, and a few months later, Young, Tobey and Knight started their own project, Pacific Nerve. Together, the trio transferred their sound from pop punk to alternative pop, and now bring in thousands of listeners across local live shows and streaming services — such as Apple Music and Spotify — in 50-plus countries.
“It’s just kind of nuts to think that people listen to us. We kind of agreed at the beginning of the project that we’re not going to release music for us to get famous or anything,” Young says. “We’re going to release music that we can look back on and say we’re proud of and, at the time, was something we could use to get all that creative juice out.”
Tapping into that creative side of himself has become increasingly valuable for Young during a college career that has become increasingly scientific in its focus. As a computer science major and pilot — he hopes to one day fly commercial planes — Young finds value in breaking out of a linear mindset. “As a computer science major, everything is math, science,” he says. “Music lets me have a creative outlet a little bit.”
Young says that part of what has been meaningful in his unexpected journey is what his music accomplishes spiritually. The Jesuit value he connects with most is that of cura personalis: “care for the whole person.”
“For us, part of caring for the whole person is creating this music, creating it together… Making yourself more well-rounded, in a spiritual sense too, you can help others better,” Young says.
Refusing to work in isolation has helped Young refine his own songwriting ideas into songs that transport listeners to a new emotional or spiritual space. “67 Pontiac,” the song whose chorus riff first came to him on the stairs, went through rounds of development with Knight and Tobey to become one of Pacific Nerve’s most popular songs.
“I don’t want to release the songs I write on their own,” Young says. “I don’t like my ideas the way they are. I like that filter that they go through with the band — the creativeness Ethan adds in drumming that I could never have thought of, and Griffin’s lyrics and his melody abilities.”
Young’s Pacific Nerve band mates have exchanged emails with record labels, and although they don’t know the likelihood of a record deal, Young says they’re content: “The worst-case scenario is we can show this music to our kids, as something we’re proud of and something we can listen to the rest of our lives.”
As a Christian, Young considers applying his musical talents toward playing in a worship band someday. For now, he doesn’t put limits on how he can serve God through his music with Pacific Nerve. “If this band were to ever get big, the music would provide me a platform to share what’s important to me,” he explains. “Who knows, God could have anything planned for that.”
By Jenny Smulson, Director of Government Relations, AJCU
2019 closed with legislative successes that brought good news for Jesuit colleges and universities, particularly our students. Working with the President, Congress completed work on the Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations process and agreed to make changes in the tax code to correct or modify several tax provisions that had negatively impacted post-secondary students and institutions of higher education.
Across the board, federal education programs (from early childhood to adult learning) received increases in funding for FY2020. These increases were a result of aggressive advocacy from AJCU and many other education organizations. AJCU helped to push for top-line increases for federal education programs in general, and for greater investments in programs such as Pell Grants and Campus Based Aid. AJCU also signed onto letters to support programs that focus on teacher education and international education.
Students who attend our institutions will benefit from increases to the maximum Pell grant award; the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) program; Federal Work Study; TRIO; FIPSE; Title VI; and Teacher Quality Partnerships.
The FY2020 appropriations bill included a $1.4 billion increase for the U.S. Department of Education. While this increase represents the third largest for the Department since FY2011, federal education funding remains almost $6 billion below the 2011 level in inflation-adjusted figures. The following table shows the increase for FY2020 over FY2019:
Speaking out and speaking up makes a difference. AJCU, in collaboration with the Committee for Education Funding (CEF), sent letters to Congress at key points during the appropriations process, urging members to increase funding for federal education programs.
Congress also made changes to the tax code to correct problematic policies adopted in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017 and extend expired provisions of benefit to students. AJCU joined colleagues from the higher education community to express our strong support for taking up and passing these amendments.
The following issues were resolved during the end of the year appropriations legislation that was passed by Congress and signed by President Trump in mid-December:
“Kiddie Tax”: As a result of the TCJA of 2017, scholarship money that students could use to pay for non-tuition expenses (e.g. room and board) was taxed at the estates and trust rate, which was higher than the previous marginal rate based on students’ parents’ income (which tended to be low for low-income families). As a result, low- and middle-income scholarship students were taxed at a higher rate on financial aid used to pay for non-tuition fees, negatively affecting students from lower-income families, some student athletes, and students from Gold Star families (surviving family members of fallen service members who died while serving in combat). This provision has been repealed.
Parking Tax: The TCJA adopted a provision imposing a new 21% tax on the value of employee transportation and parking benefits provided by all tax-exempt nonprofits, including colleges and universities. This tax has been repealed.
Cadillac Tax: Employer-sponsored health benefits, whose value exceeds legally specified thresholds, would have been subject to a 40% excise tax, starting in 2022. The tax has been repealed.
Tuition Deduction: The tuition deduction expired at the end of 2017. Congress has now approved an extension through December 31, 2020, allowing students or their parents to deduct up to $4,000 in eligible higher education expenses from their taxable income (college expenses from 2018 and 2019 are eligible retroactively).
In this new year, AJCU will double down on our commitment to deepening bipartisan support for federal investments in education, with a focus on those programs that clear a path for post-secondary study, including opportunities for students to be #JesuitEducated. Happy 2020!