February 6, 2014
By Richard Doherty, AICUM President
AICUM just returned from NAICU’s Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, during which we held meetings with Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Ed Markey. We were joined by representatives from more than a dozen AICUM member institutions, including Presidents Johnson (Becker College), Hopey (Merrimack College), Engelkemeyer (Nichols College), Lee (Pine Manor College), and Father Denning (Stonehill College).
During our meetings, we thanked both Senators for their support of the recent federal budget compromise that included positive news for Pell funding and the restoration of some sequestration cuts to other campus-based financial aid programs and critical federal research funding. This was an important development for higher education and our delegation worked hard to ensure that this important student aid continues to come to Massachusetts.
We also shared our collective concerns regarding President Obama’s proposal to create a “college scorecard”, emphasizing that the “one-size fits all” proposal is likely fraught with unintended consequences, particularly in Massachusetts where the great diversity of our institutions – and the students attending those institutions – sets us apart from the rest of the country. Both Senators Warren and Markey expressed an understanding of our concerns and promised to work with us as President Obama’s proposal is developed by the Administration and debated by Congress.
In return, the Senators shared with us legislation that they are introducing in the Senate. Senator Warren discussed her
proposal to allow those with student loans to refinance that debt to take advantage of current lower interest rates offered for new federal student loans.
This exciting proposal would apply to all forms of student debt, including undergraduate, graduate and parents-plus loans, and perhaps private loans. She described her proposal as a “stimulus package” that would help to reduce the debt burdens of a huge number of borrowers, thereby freeing up money for use in other sectors of the economy.
Senator Markey discussed his interest in protecting the privacy rights of college students. He intends to file legislation amending the FERPA law to: (1) prohibit student data from being used commercially; (2) require that private vendors take appropriate steps to safeguard data; and (3) mandate that certain data is deleted after it is no longer needed. As we have seen in the recent hacking episodes at retail stores, it is more important than ever to take the necessary steps to protect data and ensure its confidentiality.
A meeting with members and staff for our House delegation was postponed due to the pending storm and is being rescheduled for March.
We are fortunate in Massachusetts to have a Congressional delegation that recognizes the true value of higher education to the Commonwealth and its economy. At a time of partisanship in Washington, it is refreshing to know that Massachusetts has a strong delegation that is committed to expanding access to higher education and protecting federal funding for financial aid and research.