Tuesday, December 6, 2022

A National Campus-Climate Survey and Other Higher-Ed Tidbits in Spending Bill

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As a $1.5-trillion government-spending bill made its way through Congress this week, higher-ed wonks cheered the inclusion of several well-known policies, such as a $400 increase to the maximum Pell Grant award and the FAFSA Simplification Act, which aims to ease the burden on students applying for federal financial aid.

But colleges featured prominently elsewhere in the nearly 3,000-page legislation.

One notable provision directed the Education Department to develop an “online survey tool” measuring college students’ experiences with sexual assault and harassment. Many colleges have already started conducting their own campus-climate surveys in recent years, though institutions have struggled with low response rates, and students and advocates often express frustration that college leaders do little with the results.

Colleges that receive federal funding will be required to administer the national campus-climate survey every two years. The Education Department will publish an aggregate report summarizing the results on that same timeline.

Lawmakers’ vision for the survey, according to the bill, is that it will help colleges compile better information about domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and stalking. The survey will assess the prevalence of misconduct, whether students feel comfortable coming forward about being assaulted, and whether institutions have the resources in place to help victims.

The bill also called for the creation of a “task force on sexual violence in education” to advise the Education Department, Congress, and the general public. The task force will “provide pertinent information” about “consistent, public complaint processes” for alleged violations of Title IX, the federal gender-equity law, according to the legislation, and will recommend sexual-assault prevention and response measures that are “culturally inclusive.”

Those campus sexual-violence provisions didn’t include new funding. But the bill did set aside $22 million for grants to “reduce violent crimes against women on campus” as part of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Half of that money was allocated specifically to historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and tribal colleges.

Unlike other spending bills passed over the last decade, the 2022 version brought the return of earmarks, allowing lawmakers to direct federal funds to pet projects in their home states — including on college campuses. After an 11-year hiatus, Democrats recently restored the practice, which is now known as “community-project funding” in the House of Representatives and “congressionally directed spending” in the Senate.

The bill included $1.5 billion for thousands of earmarks, including more than 200 for colleges. Among them are nearly two-dozen higher-ed projects in California, and a dozen in New Jersey.

The largest higher-ed earmark, by far, went to the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, which will receive $50 million for a permanent endowment to support faculty recruitment in science and engineering fields. Senator Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican who’s retiring after this year, made the request.

Many of the higher ed earmarks went toward cybersecurity and aviation programs, as well as technology updates. About a dozen universities, including Louisiana Tech and Bridgewater State Universities, will receive money to establish cybersecurity educational centers or expand existing programs, according to a list of appropriations. Allocations range from $97,000 to $2,000,000 at a variety of institutions, including community colleges and technical schools.

Here are six other higher-ed items in the bill:

  • $50 million for developing, offering, and improving educational and career-training programs at community colleges.
  • Investments in HBCUs, including $3.6 million for Spelman College, with some designated for a Center of Excellence for Minority Women in STEM program and upgrade technology, and $2.3 million for Morehouse College to pay for student-support services and an environmental-justice and sustainability program.
  • Under the Department of Health and Human Services, $2 million for facilities and equipment at Florida International University; $850,000 for Bradley University, in Illinois, for nurse education and equipment; and $1.15 million for a health work-force initiative at George Mason University, in Virginia.
  • Millions for work-force development programs, including: more than $1 million for Alpena Community College, in Michigan; $1.5 million for the City College of New York; $1.2 million for Durham Technical Community College, in North Carolina; and $2 million for Lackawanna College, in Pennsylvania, for technical- and vocational-education programs.
  • $3 million endowments at both the University of Missouri at Columbia and Missouri State University for retention of staff in the fields of health and life sciences and health care.
  • $550,000 for the College of Southern Maryland, a two-year institution, for “equipment.” No further explanation.

The bill, which funds the federal government through September, will go into effect once President Biden signs it.



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