#ConnectCollegeStudents Legislative Victories & More in Year-End Deal

WASHINGTON — Today, Congress introduced an omnibus funding package combined with additional coronavirus relief. The following statement can be attributed to Julie Peller, executive director of Higher Learning Advocates.

“We thank Congressional leaders for recognizing the importance of assisting students who are having difficulty accessing affordable and reliable high-speed internet access and connected devices by introducing two critical legislative measures to support students now. The inclusion of Pell Grant recipients in the eligibility categories for the emergency broadband benefit means real solutions for low-income students throughout the country who have been struggling with connectivity throughout the pandemic. 

Further, the inclusion of $285 million for the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program can be used by institutions of higher education like Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), and other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) and is a critical step forward in solving connectivity challenges for today’s students through colleges. Importantly, we applaud the requirements that 40 percent of funds must go to HBCUs or their students and 20 percent of overall funding must go to students in need.

Higher Learning Advocates has been working with Congressional leaders since April to provide funding for students facing connectivity challenges. We are especially thankful to Congresswoman Eshoo, Senator Klobuchar, and Senator Wyden for advocating for solutions for students. While the measures included in this bill are good steps forward, we know that further solutions are needed for the 57 percent of college students who are having trouble accessing broadband and connected devices to complete coursework and ultimately earn their degree or credential, and we look forward to continuing to work with Congress on additional long-term solutions.

We also applaud the package’s simplification of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a commonsense policy change that is long-needed. As FAFSA completion is down 13.5 percent compared to last year, these changes will reduce complexities for students and their families when completing the form, especially from financial challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic. We also support the inclusion of a provision to restore Pell Grant eligibility to incarcerated individuals. Allowing incarcerated people to earn postsecondary degrees and credentials will ultimately reduce recidivism and incarceration costs and promote opportunities for reintegration into communities.

Finally, we thank leaders for including additional emergency aid funding for today’s students, who are still struggling to meet basic needs and emergency expenses due to the pandemic. The bill’s waiver of federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) student eligibility rules for those enrolled at least half-time who either have zero expected family contribution (EFC) or are in Federal Work Study (FWS) is also a welcome provision, as 44 percent of students at two-year institutions and 38 percent at four-year institutions reported facing food insecurity throughout the pandemic. And the bill’s allocation of 10 billion toward the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program will assist the 22 percent of students in college who are parents and who faced additional challenges this year.

While this package includes many important provisions for today’s students, we are disappointed to see that federal stimulus checks will not go to the approximately 10 million dependent college students and we hope that further relief efforts do not continue to exclude this population.

We thank Congress for passing these measures to support today’s students and look forward to continuing to bring about additional solutions for our nation’s students in college alongside all Americans impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.”