2017summary

As 2017 draws to a close, DC has been abuzz with activity. Just this week alone, Congress completed work on a short-term Continuing Resolution to avoid a government shutdown and passed a wide-ranging tax reform bill that will dramatically change the landscape for many taxpayers in the years to come. In addition, earlier this month Chairwoman Virginia Foxx introduced H.R. 4508, the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, Prosperity (PROSPER) Act, a sweeping bill to reauthorize and reform the Higher Education Act (HEA), which shortly thereafter passed through the House Education and Workforce Committee on a party line vote.

Each of these developments impacts Northeastern significantly and will dictate much of our Government Relations agenda in 2018. 

Federal Budget

Just in time to avoid a shutdown of the federal government, Congress approved a short-term budget deal known as a Continuing Resolution (CR) that will fund the government until January 19, 2018. In addition to funding basic programs of the federal government, the budget stopgap includes temporary funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Notably, the CR does not include any extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program or any longer-term Department of Defense funding, which some observers suspected it might.

The CR means that Congress will now have January 19th to strike a new deal to either fund the government for the remainder of the current fiscal year or to pass another short-term stopgap. We’re hopeful that these extra few weeks will allow House and Senate budget leaders to come to an agreement on a longer-term spending bill, but there is no guarantee that will be the case. A longer-term budget would mean we would finally see certain program updates and funding level increases that will benefit many of our researchers. Instead, a series of CRs means that programs that support research remain at last year’s levels.

Tax Reform

We were pleased to see that the final tax reform bill that passed the House and Senate did not contain many of the provisions from previous versions that would have most negatively impacted our students, alumni, and Northeastern as an institution. For example, the final bill preserves the exclusion for graduate student and university employee tuition waivers, preserves the deduction for student loan interest payments, and keeps in place important education related incentives such as the Lifelong Learning Tax Credit and American Opportunity Tax Credit.

However, some provisions that would negatively impact colleges and universities and their students and alumni remained, including a new excise tax on certain university endowments, the elimination of advanced refunding bonds, which universities often use to finance new construction, and the doubling of the standard deduction, which we fear will discourage charitable giving. And although Northeastern will not be impacted by the new endowment tax, we strongly oppose this encroachment on the tax-exempt status of universities.

PROSPER Act

We are currently in the process of evaluating the full impact that Chairwoman Foxx’s PROSPER Act, which reauthorizes HEA, would have on Northeastern, our students, and our alumni. We are concerned that certain provisions of the bill will limit the choices our students and alumni have to finance and pay for their education, that a new Pell Grant bonus for students that complete a certain number of credits per year does not adequately account for students in co-op programs, and that changes to the way the Federal Work Study program distributed money to institutions may negatively impact some of our students.

However, some provisions of the bill play to our strengths as an institution and we believe we may be well positioned to take advantage of new programs and opportunities that will benefit our students. First and foremost, we were pleased to see the inclusion of language that would expand the Federal Work Study program to allow students to earn their work study allocation for work done as part of a full-time co-op at a private sector employer. This is a common-sense change for which we have been advocating for several years. We were also encouraged to see a new emphasis on work and learn programs and innovative partnerships between higher education and industry aimed at solving workforce skills gap needs. 

To make matters more complicated, we expect the Senate to take up a variety of higher education related bills individually next year, which may or may not match up with the provisions of the House bill. As we continue to monitor this process in the new year, we will be advocating for the continued inclusion of those provisions that we believe will help our students, alumni, and the institution.

As always, please feel free to reach out with any questions. Happy holidays!