By Deanna Howes Spiro, Director of Communications, AJCU

It’s been several years since AJCU dedicated an issue of Connections to veterans programs at Jesuit colleges and universities. Since then, our schools have developed new initiatives to help students who are joining ROTC as undergraduates or returning to the classroom after serving abroad. And as an Association, we have partnered with our local Jesuit alumni chapters in Washington, D.C. on two annual service projects to honor those who have served our nation.

Every December, a large group of alumni from Jesuit colleges and universities gathers at Arlington National Cemetery to place Christmas wreaths upon the graves of their alumni during the annual Wreaths Across America event. The “Jesuit group” gathering was initiated in 2013, when the DC College of the Holy Cross alumni chapter joined a group of alumni from Boston College and the BC Veterans Alumni Network to volunteer. The Fordham University chapter joined in 2014 and new schools have been added on each year. Regardless of the weather, we place our wreaths together in rain or shine, and gather in fellowship afterward at a nearby Irish pub. This year’s event will be held on Saturday, December 14; more information can be found here.

In 2018, the Le Moyne College DC alumni chapter welcomed volunteers from the Fordham University, Loyola University Maryland and Marquette University alumni chapters to greet veterans traveling to National Airport on an honor flight from Syracuse (where Le Moyne is located). The event was so successful that in 2019, alumni from Saint Joseph’s University, Seattle University and Spring Hill College joined in the fun! Both events were part of AJCU’s National Jesuit Alumni Service Days initiative, which takes place every spring. Dates have not been set for 2020 yet, but please check out our alumni events calendar for updates (and other events taking place before then!):

Not only do these events bring alumni together in service and fellowship, they also serve as a way of honoring St. Ignatius’ legacy as a veteran. He was a soldier in Spain, and the wound to his leg from a cannonball during battle changed the trajectory of his life. In fact, the life of St. Ignatius mirrors that of many students who enroll at Jesuit colleges and universities as adults, after serving in the military or the Marines.

Today, on Veterans Day, we thank our students and alumni who have sacrificed to serve our nation, and we thank our Jesuit colleges and universities for helping them upon their return home.

By Stan Zygmunt, Director of News and Media Relations, The University of Scranton

(L-R): Cadet Vincent Oliverio, senior computer engineering major; Cadet Ryan Haley, senior business administration major; Lt. Col. William White, professor of military science (photo courtesy of The University of Scranton)

(L-R): Cadet Vincent Oliverio, senior computer engineering major; Cadet Ryan Haley, senior business administration major; Lt. Col. William White, professor of military science (photo courtesy of The University of Scranton)

Contemplatives in action come to mind when Cadet Vincent Oliverio thinks of the way that Jesuit values are embedded in the ROTC Program at The University of Scranton. “When we see others being oppressed, we are taught to reflect, make decisions and take action when needed for the good of others,” says Oliverio, a senior computer engineering major.

Cadet Ryan Haley sees Jesuit values in the ROTC’s commitment to excellence and the challenge to develop fully the talents of each individual. “Our commitment to develop ourselves and our commitment to become excellent leaders goes back to our concern for the individual, because we want to make sure that we are doing right for the people we serve,” says Haley, a senior business administration major.

Lieutenant Colonel William White, professor of military science at Scranton, thinks of the selflessness and sacrifice of St. Ignatius: “Ignatius was a soldier. He started on the same path as me. I can understand that piece of it, and see some parallels to the military in the areas of personal sacrifice and obedience.”

Lt. Col. White goes on to describe the broader need for the key skills a Jesuit education provides. He explains, “The Army needs critical thinkers. Our role as an officer often falls in a gray area. Questions asked of you don’t have simple black and white answers that are found in the book. Officers step in when the answer in the book doesn’t work, or when you don’t have a cut and dry answer. We need the officer’s critical thinking ability to research, analyze and understand the bigger picture and to then be able to make an informed decision.”

A ROTC cadet participates in a training exercise (photo courtesy of THe University of Scranton)

A ROTC cadet participates in a training exercise (photo courtesy of THe University of Scranton)

The ROTC Program at The University of Scranton
The Army ROTC was established at The University of Scranton in 1951, with the first individuals earning their commissions from the program in 1955. During the 1950s and 1960s, all full-time students were male and every student was required to take ROTC for the first two years at the University. During this time, more than 1,000 students participated in the Cadet regiment. The Army ROTC offered a host of activities, including a Cadet Band, Cadet Rifle Team and a Cadet-led Drill and Ceremony Team.

In 1969, participation in the ROTC Program became voluntary. Cadet enrollment declined significantly during the Vietnam conflict and in the early 1970s, the program almost closed. In 1975, a University history professor and academic vice president, the late Rev. Joseph A. Rock, S.J., who was very passionate about keeping the program, wrote to Congress and the closure was averted. Fr. Rock was also instrumental in the creation of the ROTC unit crest, which is still worn by cadets to this day. In 1996, the North East Pennsylvania Battalion, as it was now formally named, moved its headquarters to “Rock Hall,” which the University named after the Jesuit educator who devoted so much time and support to the ROTC program.

Thanks to the support of many, including former University President Rev. J.A. Panuska, S.J., the program has continued to grow. Several incentives, such as free room and board, were approved for students who won high school ROTC scholarships. In 1995, the University became an Army Partner in Nursing Education, and in 1998, the program became one of the first in the nation to approve a minor in leadership centered mainly around the ROTC program of instruction.

ROTC Cadet Ryan Haley participated in the ROTC’s Cultural Understanding and Language summer program in Rwanda (photo courtesy of The University of Scranton)

ROTC Cadet Ryan Haley participated in the ROTC’s Cultural Understanding and Language summer program in Rwanda (photo courtesy of The University of Scranton)

Today, ROTC cadets routinely spend their summers engaged in additional ROTC training programs that include professional development, such as Cadet Troop Leader Training, Project Global Officer (GO) Language Training and the Cultural Understanding and Language Program (CULP). These programs afford cadets the opportunity to train across the United States and around the globe.

According to Lt. Col. White, the ROTC program follows an experiential learning model that educates and trains through an almost apprentice type of approach. He says, “These cadets first understand what it is to be a leader, then actually lead. The majority of the duties of seniors during the year is to run the organization with the mission of preparing the underclass – the next generation – to be ready to assume their leadership role the following year.”

The ROTC program also uses defined mentorship groups, with each class member serving as mentors to the class behind them. The mentorship extends beyond the ROTC program to help the mentees progress through college, and develop ideas of what they want to do after graduation.

“Military service is not something that is normal to most people. We are less than one percent of the population – so there is a whole lot of education and guidance needed to help these individuals grow and develop fully. This is a critical part of what we do,” says Lt. Col. White.

“You could join ROTC as a mediocre student or [be] in mediocre physical shape, but the program is run in such a way that you will be pushed to be excellent in every situation – academically, physically, spiritually, emotionally,” says Cadet Oliverio. “Together, we push each other, we all have a similar drive. We joined this because it’s something we wanted to do and that motivates us to strive for excellence.”

ROTC Unit Crest


The late Rev. Joseph A. Rock, S.J., a history professor and academic vice president at The University of Scranton, who devoted much time and support to Scranton’s ROTC program, was instrumental in the creation of the University’s ROTC unit crest (pictured left), which is still worn by cadets to this day. Father Rock also served as acting president of the University in 1970.

Colors of the Shield
Royal purple and white, the original and traditional colors of The University of Scranton, are employed as the principle tinctures of the shield. The black border is representative of the border of the Coats of Arms of the Diocese of Scranton, PA, the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction in which The University of Scranton is located.

The Lion, symbolic of strength and intelligence, is used in the unit patch to designate the strength of the University’s ROTC Detachment, as well as the Armed Forces in general.

The Cross represented in the patch is a “Cross Patonce” and symbolizes Christ. As such, it is used in the patch to identify The University of Scranton as a Catholic institution.

Lightning Bolt
The Lightning Bolt, striking through the center of the patch, is symbolic of the strength of the Church and the Military as represented by The University of Scranton and the ROTC Detachment. Since this ROTC Detachment is under the jurisdiction of the Training and Doctrine Command, the color of the lightning bolt is representative of the red found in the TRADOC patch.

The Keystone found in the corner of the patch, is representative of the State of Pennsylvania: The Keystone State. It is therefore intended to signify The University of Scranton as being located in the State of Pennsylvania. It is also representative in the University’s charter by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

By Alan Bisbort, Fairfield University

“I’m a Catholic writer who had a Jesuit education, and the Jesuit worldview played a big role in shaping who I am.”

— Phil Klay, author


Down by Seaside Chapel on Enders Island, as the waves of the Atlantic Ocean lap over the coastal rocks behind him, Phil Klay talks writing with several military veterans who are enrolled in Fairfield’s MFA creative writing program.

Winner of the National Book Award for his first collection of short stories, Redeployment (2014), Klay stands on the glistening rocks with his back to the water while the students form a semicircle around him.

Participants in Fairfield’s MFA program come each semester for a 10-day residency on the island located off the coast of Mystic, CT, to live in the retreat’s guest rooms, eat in the dining hall, and talk about their work.

At the end of their time in this idyllic setting, the students head back to their respective homes to complete the semester’s curriculum under the mentorship of a writing program instructor.

On this sweltering late July afternoon, Klay is relaxed as he walks the beautiful 11-acre grounds of Enders Island and talks about writing. “I’m a Catholic writer who had a Jesuit education, and the Jesuit worldview played a big role in shaping who I am,” said Klay. “Being at Fairfield is a good fit.”

In his long-sleeved, button-down oxford with its rumpled shirt-tail flying over his blue jeans, Klay looks every bit the charismatic young professor (he is 36). His obvious passion for teaching and, of course, the brilliance of his writing are what brought him onto the faculty of the growing writing program within the College of Arts and Sciences this year.

Klay’s Marine Corps experience infuses his writing, which resonates with the MFA students taking advantage of a program that offers up to $10,000 in financial assistance to veterans. Many have exhausted their GI Bill benefits, so the financial help is appealing, but that’s not the only reason they’ve chosen the Fairfield program. They’ve come because of Phil Klay — what they’ve read by him and what they’ve heard about him.

Klay taught creative writing at Princeton University before coming to Fairfield this year as the program’s first-ever writer-in-residence. His responsibilities currently include running the MFA residency program as the summer’s featured writer at Enders Island. He will also host workshops throughout the academic year to mentor the University’s creative writing students, and serve as a panel member at the Open VISIONS Forum series.

Earlier in the day, in one of the cozy seminar grottos of Enders House, an early-20th-century Arts and Crafts-style mansion, Klay led a two-hour class built around excerpts from the work of Vasily Grossman, the Soviet chemical engineer who became an unlikely, but unrivaled, war correspondent, particularly for his harrowing and heartbreaking descriptions of the Nazi siege of Stalingrad (1943) — one of the turning points of World War II.

“What is the central conflict here?” Klay asked the class, after citing a passage from Grossman that involved blowing up a Wehrmacht tank. “It is not just a conflict about war and the likelihood that the narrator might die. It’s about his life back home. Do you see how it inverts the expectations of the reader? You get his backstory, even while the narrator is describing the war setting.”



Klay’s own backstory inverts some expectations. Raised in Westchester, NY, he attended Jesuit schools, including Regis High School in New York City, before going to Dartmouth, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in creative writing.

“I first tried seriously writing in high school,” said Klay, who contributes essays to America, The American Scholar and The New York Times. “I was fascinated with how to make sense of the world. I never thought, then, of writing as a career. I was reading writers like Flannery O’Connor, Graham Greene, Dostoevsky — people using fiction as a vehicle for getting at larger things.”

After graduating from Dartmouth, he volunteered for the Marines, explaining to one interviewer, “I wanted to serve my country in a time of war.” As a public-affairs officer, Klay spent more than a year in Iraq’s Anbar province.

“I was not a combat soldier,” Klay is quick to point out. “I didn’t do any of those things depicted in the stories in Redeployment that involved combat. But there is much of me in the stories, too. It’s hard to say which ‘character’ from Redeployment comes closest to me. They’re all me and they’re all not me.”

After completing his commitment to the Marines, Klay enrolled in the MFA writing program at Hunter College. Currently, he has completed a novel that is in the hands of a publisher. It’s about U.S. military involvement in Colombia, post-9/11.

In one of his stories in Redeployment (“Psychological Operations”) Klay skewers the scenario of a combat veteran ‘mansplaining’ things to a woman and civilian back home in a way that suggests he believes he’s somehow superior, or demands the center stage, because he is a veteran of war.

“That attitude has no place in my classroom, or anywhere, really,” Klay said adamantly. “Civilians have a role in conversations about war. My classes will have vets and non-vets.”

As for the attitude cited above, Klay continued, “The veterans I knew who participated in killing tended to speak about that in a way that was very different from the casual blowhard way depicted in the stories. There’s a mode of talking that a unit has within its own members that is different than the one that is used outside of the unit.”

Teaching creative writing, Klay has discovered, is not an impediment to pursuing his own writing projects. “I find it stimulating rather than hindering to my writing to be teaching about writing,” he said. “Creative writing classes are different than other classes. They often feel like an exploration for the professors, as much as for the students.”

For more information, or to apply to Fairfield University’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, please visit

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Fairfield University Magazine and is re-published here with permission from Fairfield University.

By Meaghan Resta, Saint Joseph’s University

Members of the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans Cohort IV stand outside of Barbelin Hall at Saint Joseph’s University (photo courtesy of Saint JOseph’s University)

Members of the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans Cohort IV stand outside of Barbelin Hall at Saint Joseph’s University (photo courtesy of Saint JOseph’s University)

When Jonathan Cleck, a 23-year veteran of the Navy SEALs, and his wife, Stephanie, relocated to the Philadelphia area five years ago, they were ready to jumpstart their small family business: a mobile hair styling service that caters to clients in their homes.

“When we re-branded the company under the name Concihairge and hired our first employee,” Cleck remembers, “We recognized that there were a lot of gaps in our knowledge in the scope of a more complex small business — marketing, social media, employees, hiring. There were a lot of holes in our skill sets.”

Cleck soon discovered that the Veterans Entrepreneurial Jumpstart program at Saint Joseph’s University offered the business fundamentals and resources needed to expand their business.

Since 2015, the Veterans Entrepreneurial Jumpstart Program and the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (delivered through Saint Joseph’s affiliation with Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families) have provided the tools, education and mentorship necessary for veterans to start or grow their own businesses. And of the nine U.S. universities that offer the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV), Saint Joseph’s has distinguished itself as the only Catholic university in the consortium.

Cleck is among the 186 veterans who have benefited from entrepreneurial programs offered through Saint Joseph’s Office of Veterans Services. While all of the participants share a background in military service, each veteran’s path is unique.

“We get veterans at the early stages of their entrepreneurial journey. Most of the participants have an idea that they have developed over time and some are already in business. Some are retired,” explains Hank Gillen, director of veterans services. “Our purpose is to help them to start or grow their business.”

As military men and women return home from service and explore various pathways to transition into civilian life, many find success as entrepreneurs. Statistics show that veterans are more inclined to start their own business than the general population. According to a recent Small Business Administration study, veterans are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than non-veterans.

“Entrepreneurship is somewhat of a unique calling. The success of entrepreneurship requires tenacity, focus and self-discipline to stay on task,” says Gillen. “Veterans have been exposed to and have mastered these skills during their military service.”

The EBV program is designed in three phases. During the initial phase, veterans participate in a self-study curriculum and receive instructor feedback as they formalize a business plan. The second phase of the program consists of an intense, nine-day residency where veterans are exposed to a broad training curriculum through classroom discussions, guest lectures by faculty in Saint Joseph’s Haub School of Business and industry practitioners, and experiential learning. Veterans are mentored as they further develop and refine their business plans, which are evaluated during a venture pitch competition. Veterans receive ongoing mentorship and a suite of support services for twelve months after completing the on-campus residency.

Two out of three graduates go on to seek additional training in areas like procurement, sales or small business incubators, or pursue the NexGen Academy, the University’s professional development certificate program for family businesses.

Tim Swift, Ph.D., associate professor of management and interim director of the Pedro Arrupe, S.J. Center for Business Ethics, has taught courses on public speaking and presentation skills in the entrepreneurial programs. He says, “I have come to realize that many military veterans have already gained much relevant training and experience that helps them to become highly effective entrepreneurs. They understand taking calculated risks. They know how to solve problems on their own, with limited resources. They know how to organize, inspire and lead teams. Many are active people who don’t want to be ‘cramped in an office.’ All of these experiences and traits naturally lend themselves to entrepreneurship.”

Since winning the venture pitch competition in 2018, Cleck has pitched the mobile hair service to investors and competed in several pitch competitions. In just a year, Concihairge has taken off.

“We were able to take a better look at our business model in terms of productivity, our overhead, our efficiencies and inefficiencies in our business processes, and we were able to make tremendous improvements because of the knowledge we gained throughout the program,” he says. “We are now up over 700 percent in sales. We have streamlined our overhead and we have cut costs.”

Cleck reflected on the common bond shared among the veterans and entrepreneurs. “You share stories of success, lessons learned from failed business attempts and mistakes in starting or running a business, as well as the natural self-doubt that comes with any attempt of a new venture,” he explains.

The entrepreneurial programs closely align with the Jesuit mission and philosophy of Saint Joseph’s.

“St. Ignatius was a disabled veteran. While recovering from a military injury, he went into a path of reflection, which led him to find the Society of Jesus. Education was a big part of his recovery. We’re enabling veterans to follow a similar path of discovery to become small business owners,” Gillen says.

“Our program is consistent with the Jesuit philosophy of cura personalis, care for the whole person. We are working with the veterans to not only become technically proficient in the business requirements of entrepreneurship, but also to be mindful of their own personal strengths and resilience.”

Contributed by the Office of Marketing and Communication at Marquette University

Marquette sophomore Margaret Plaza in Oman (photo courtesy of Marquette University)

Marquette sophomore Margaret Plaza in Oman (photo courtesy of Marquette University)

When Margaret Plaza signed up to spend much of last summer studying at the University of Nizwa in Oman, her plan was simple: learn the language, experience the culture and return to Marquette to continue her studies in biomedical sciences.

It didn’t work out that way. Spending her days immersed in the study of Arabic, first at Marquette and then in Oman, she fell in love with the language and couldn’t see herself giving it up. “The first thing I did when I got back was switch majors,” says Plaza, a Marquette sophomore and member of the campus-based Golden Eagle Battalion of Army ROTC. “I now want to go into military intelligence, and changing my major to international affairs with a minor in Arabic will help me be successful.”

Plaza’s life-changing experience was part of an ROTC program called Project GO, a Department of Defense initiative aimed at improving the language skills, regional expertise and intercultural communication skills of future military officers. The program not only serves as a gateway for Marquette cadets and midshipmen; the University also serves as a gateway to the program, taking in up to 18 students per year from schools around the United States and preparing them for their time in Oman with a week-long intensive introduction led by professors from Marquette’s Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures.

And Project GO is not the only program that gives Golden Eagle cadets the chance to experience other cultures. Jeff Cooley, a senior majoring in criminology, took advantage of another ROTC offering, the Cultural Understanding and Leadership Program (CULP), to spend three weeks last summer in Senegal, helping local communities on a variety of public assistance projects and joining — even leading — Senegalese cadets on training missions. All told, five Marquette students had ROTC experiences last summer in four countries — Argentina, Mongolia, Oman and Senegal.

Before they are accepted, each Project GO applicant takes the Intercultural Development Inventory assessment, a key test of their readiness for what may lie ahead for them, says Dr. Enaya Othman, assistant professor of languages, literatures and cultures, and Project GO’s academic director at Marquette. “We need to determine if they have a desire and ability to recognize cultural differences and understand why they exist through understanding of the culture,” she says.

With students supplying the empathy and Project GO bringing them into enveloping contact with a foreign country, the program permanently changes students, says Othman. And a key step in preparing them for that transformation is the responsibility of the Arabic program — getting the cadets up to speed through a five-day intensive Arabic language course. Combined with their study in Oman, that’s enough for cadets to return with a “mid-to-high intermediate proficiency, depending on the level they had when they began the study abroad program,” she says.

After that introduction and flights occupying the better part of 24 hours, Plaza arrived at the University of Nizwa near the Al-Hajar Mountains in northern Oman, where she studied Arabic every weekday from 9 to 5. For cadets who will become officers stationed in the Middle East, these language skills will be profound difference-makers, says Lt. Col. Ioannis Kiriazis, professor of military science and chair of Marquette’s Army ROTC. “As I often explain to our cadets, learning a foreign language is like looking through the eyes to the soul of a different culture. Common understanding of a language is one of the most effective ways to build effective communication, and through time, can really be a contributing factor to building trust.”

For Cooley, CULP put less emphasis on language, but offered unique opportunities to engage with Senegalese people and customs, while handing him new opportunities to lead Senegalese military cadets in vehicle search training and other exercises, something he hadn’t yet tackled back home.

Marquette senior Jeff Cooley with colleagues and friends in Senegal (photo courtesy of Marquette University)

Marquette senior Jeff Cooley with colleagues and friends in Senegal (photo courtesy of Marquette University)

Based in the town of Saint-Louis, Cooley alternated these military experiences with service projects such as painting a mural at a children’s shelter, helping to construct a school, and working with Peace Corps volunteers to help local farmers. “We got to interact with local children, playing soccer or teaching them better hygiene,” he recalls. “Their living conditions were horrible, and it was touching to see how grateful they were for everything we did, even though I felt we weren’t really doing that much for them. We didn’t change their whole outlook on life, but the connections we made with those kids were awesome.”

Whether the program is Project GO or CULP, the outcomes are similar, says Kiriazis, who leads Marquette’s ROTC program. “The trips expand their intellectual aperture through interaction with a foreign culture and make our cadets think about the world and appreciate differences in culture. It’s an important part of their development as cadets and as human beings,” he says.

That’s a message that resonates with cadets such as Cooley and Plaza as students at a Catholic, Jesuit university whose mission calls them to use their lives and their military service, whenever possible, to seek peaceful solutions and to improve the lives of others.

“The personal interactions help transform their identity. Acceptance and sensitivity toward other societies are now at their core,” Othman says. “Later in life, they communicate this awareness with others in the military and government and that informs American foreign policy. When working abroad, their cultural competence informs their interactions with non-Americans and facilitates good relations between nations. That will help them avoid errors that result from unfamiliarity with international cultures.”

The beneficiary of this training, Plaza says attending Project GO was one of the best decisions she has ever made. She says, “For anyone who has a chance to go to a different country, explore a new language and culture, I would simply say — do it.”

For students from Marquette University’s Klingler College of Arts and Sciences, ROTC is a gateway to immersion in foreign lands, languages and cultures, offering an understanding of the lives of people overseas that can help them become more effective global leaders.

By Jenny Smulson, Director of Government Relations, AJCU

On Tuesday, November 12, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in cases related to the Trump Administration’s repeal of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). AJCU, in partnership with the Ignatian Solidarity Network and the Office of Justice and Ecology within the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, will march to the Supreme Court to demonstrate support for the DACA program. Details about tomorrow morning’s event can be found at Please share this information with communities on your campus that might find it of interest and importance.

Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act
The work of Congress is like a slow train coming. The legislative process wasn’t designed to go quickly, but in recent years, even our nation’s founders themselves might be shocked by the pace of authorizers in reviewing, updating and renewing some of our nation’s foundational laws.

For example, it has taken a decade (and counting) to successfully reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA). While the programs contained within the Act mostly function without a current authorization, a lot can change in ten years, putting additional pressure on legislators to update the underlying statute and make sure it is current to meet the changing needs of students and institutions.

In a sign of progress, on October 15, the U.S. House of Representatives advanced the reauthorization with H.R. 4674, the College Affordability Act of 2019, which was introduced by Representative Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-VA), Chair of the House Education and Labor Committee. It is cosponsored by 85 Representatives (all Democrats). Over 1,000 pages in length, the legislation increases support for federal student financial aid programs; improves loan terms and conditions for borrowers; makes significant changes to accreditation; and invests in the “America’s College Promise” program designed to make public community colleges tuition-free.

After two full days of deliberation, the House Education and Labor Committee passed H.R. 4674 by a vote of 28-22, with all Democrats voting in support and all Republicans voting in opposition. This was not an easy lift, nor will advancing it further.

The Committee began its consideration of the College Affordability Act with the introduction of an amendment in the nature of a substitute. The Substitute included changes to the underlying bill that further amended the proposed accreditation provisions, in an effort to address some of the concerns articulated by the higher education community. The Substitute also included an even larger increase in the Pell Grant maximum, to $6,820, and the reinstatement of eligibility for subsidized loans to graduate students – both significant student benefits. Throughout the mark-up, members of the Committee considered over 40 amendments, most of which were met with party-line votes, with a few exceptions. A full list of the amendments considered and vote counts, as well as the Substitute, can be found here.

AJCU weighed in with the Committee prior to mark-up, expressing support for the increased investments in student aid programs, including the Pell Grant maximum, Federal Work Study, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, and the revival of the Perkins Loan program. AJCU also applauded changes to the Federal Direct Loan program that will make college more affordable for students, by eliminating origination fees, simplifying loan repayment, and strengthening and improving the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. In addition, we expressed appreciation for policies that will expand educational access to marginalized populations, like extending eligibility to incarcerated individuals to obtain Pell grants, and extending Title IV aid to “Dreamer students.”

Still, not everything in the bill would expand access to students interested in attending Jesuit colleges and universities. AJCU raised objections with the “America’s College Promise” proposal that supports one sector of higher education without consideration of student need, specifically the financial needs of low-income students. AJCU extended a request to work with the Committee to make sure that the “America’s College Promise” program strengthens federal-state partnerships and provides resources to ALL students with financial need within the state. Many states continue to recognize and respect the value in providing direct student support, and AJCU urged the Committee to consider models that leverage federal resources, encourage partnerships with states, and support students directly at eligible nonprofit institutions.

AJCU also co-signed a letter crafted by the American Council on Education (ACE) that provides a more in-depth review of changes to current law included in the College Affordability Act. This letter reiterated the community’s strong support for investing in student aid, while raising concerns about proposed policies, such as the federalization of accreditation and the significant increase in federal requirements of institutions of higher education, which would counter the goals of access and affordability articulated by the Committee. Both the AJCU and community letters are posted on the Policy Corner page of the AJCU website.

Finally, ACE has prepared a comprehensive summary of the bill as adopted (including amendments). ACE will continue to update this document with closer readings of the legislation. This is an invaluable resource to individuals and to our organization. Check it out!

What’s next? Are we on the Acela or the local train? The Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee has introduced a more limited HEA reauthorization proposal. There is little movement on that legislation. The House Education and Labor Committee maintains they will see their bill on the floor this year. They are currently working on a legislative report and waiting on a score or cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office. To advance to the full U.S. House of Representatives, the bill will have to be “priced out” and any costs will need to be offset. General estimates put the price tag on H.R. 4674 at over $400 billion over the next ten years.

So, while I excitedly share news about a flurry of activity around the HEA reauthorization, there are still many more stops to go before the bill reaches its arrival! And one upside of this slow process is that there are still opportunities to make changes to this bill. The College Affordability Act remains a work in progress. If there are specific provisions of interest to your campus that you want to discuss or need more information on, please reach out to me any time. I always welcome a conversation with you and can be reached at