February 17, 2017 View From Washington

During this time of uncertainty as the Trump Administration is focused on cabinet appointments and Congress is setting its agenda for the year, we at Northeastern have been focused on three major topics for the university: 1) Federal funding for research, 2) Protecting our students who could be impacted by the recent immigration Executive Order, and 3) Higher education policy related to student aid and innovation. We’ve met with our congressional delegation and committee staff, who on the one hand are encouraging about our federal agenda, but also cannot say for certain how the legislative process will play out this year. Here is what we do know now:


Last year, the House and Senate failed to agree on the specifics of the 12 appropriations bills that would set funding levels for the federal agencies for fiscal year 2017 (October 1, 2016 – September 30, 2017). Instead, in order to keep the federal government operating in the new fiscal year without new appropriations, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution (CR). A CR is a temporary funding mechanism that funds the government into a new fiscal year while Congress works to reconcile its appropriations bills. The current CR (passed on December 9, 2016) funds the government until April 28, 2017. 

Congress has a decision to make in the coming months: either reconcile the twelve FY17 appropriations bills and pass them, or pass another CR to fund the government through the end of FY17 (September 30, 2017). Many people on Capitol Hill expect that Congress will choose the latter and focus on other priorities, such as the Affordable Care Act repeal/replace, tax reform, immigration reform, and the appropriations process for FY18 (which begins October 1, 2017). If this happens, it means that federal funding for agencies such as the NSF, NIH, DoD, etc. will stay at their current funding level and no new programs will be started. While a CR is not ideal, it does also means that certain programs including climate science, social science, and student aid are not likely to be cut. If the Congress does move the funding bills before April, there are several priorities that we have related to health, security, and sustainability, as well as student aid, that we will continue to advocate for.


We are particularly concerned about the impact of President Trump’s Executive Order: Protecting The Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States. We, along with the higher education community across the country, rely heavily on the talents of international students, faculty, and staff, and we value the spirit of diversity and inclusion that they bring to our campus communities. Roughly 250 Northeastern students, second most among private institutions nationwide, and 31 faculty members come from the seven countries outlined in the President’s executive order and are impacted by its provisions. Given the potential negative implications of this Executive Order, Northeastern has been speaking to our students, faculty, and staff, as well as making our voices heard in Washington, DC on this issue. We have spoken to our Congressional delegation about the negative implications of the Executive Order, signed on to several letters opposing the order, and joined seven other Massachusetts colleges and universities in filing an amicus brief in support of the suit brought in U.S. District Court in Boston challenging the executive order. We are watching to see if the Trump Administration offers a new Executive Order as well as what the courts do, which will have an impact on the current order. Regardless, Northeastern will stand by our students and will continue to work on this issue with policy makers. 


The key committees in the House and the Senate with jurisdiction over the Department of Education are considering reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA). This could have an impact on student aid programs, accreditation, and incentives for innovation. The process to rewrite the HEA will take several months. We will be focused on protecting key financial aid programs (Pell grants, Perkins loans, SEOG, and loan repayment), enabling flexibility with Work Study for co-ops, and incentivizing further innovation in higher education. It is still unclear when this effort will start or how it will ultimately play out. Our goal is simply to ensure that whenever HEA moves that it has positive implications for Northeastern and especially our students. 

Looking Forward

We want to assure you that the university is actively engaged in these policy matters and working toward positive outcomes. At the same time, given the level of uncertainty in Washington, we cannot predict the outcomes of many of these issues. While that makes our interactions with policy makers challenging, we will continue to be substantively engaged.