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Leading Research Universities Report, February 5, 2024

A physical copy of the FASFA applicationAAU, Associations Urge Colleges to Extend Financial Aid, Enrollment Commitment Deadlines

The Department of Education announced last week that colleges and universities will not begin receiving students’ Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) data until March. This means that students and families will have to wait much longer than usual to receive financial aid offers from colleges and will have significantly less time than usual to make informed decisions about where to enroll.  

In response to this news, AAU and nine other higher education associations released a statement last week encouraging “colleges and universities to provide flexibility to students and families as they consider their offers of admission and financial aid.” The associations noted that many institutions provided flexibility to students during the pandemic and urged them to do so again this year. “We all want students and families to have the time they need to consider their financial options before making enrollment decisions,” they said. 

As Inside Higher Ed notes, the delay in transmitting FAFSA data “is the latest hiccup in the rollout of the new FAFSA form, which was overhauled last year by congressional mandate in order to ‘simplify’ the process and expand Pell eligibility.” The Education Department launched the revised FAFSA form in early January; the latest delay is the result of the agency adjusting the application further to protect more of a family’s earnings from being available for college expenses. 

A picture of a man facing away with a backpackAAU Expresses Support for Some Portions – and Concerns About Other Parts – of the College Cost Reduction Act

Last week, Republicans on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce advanced the College Cost Reduction Act (H.R. 6951) on a party-line vote of 22-19. Introduced just last month, the expansive, 223-page legislation contains numerous proposals that, if implemented, would make sweeping changes to higher education in the areas of financial aid, student loan borrowing and repayment, and college accreditation. AAU joined the higher education community last week in expressing support for some portions of the bill and significant concerns about others.  

AAU President Barbara R. Snyder sent a letter last week to the leaders of the House Education Committee offering support for provisions in the bill that would implement standardized financial aid offer forms and eliminate loan origination fees and interest capitalization for student loan borrowers. 

She expressed significant concern, however, about provisions that would require institutions to share the risk of unpaid student loans. “The risk-sharing provisions in the bill could harm institutions that enroll a high number of low-income and first-generation students,” she said.  

President Snyder also noted AAU’s concerns with provisions that would require institutions to guarantee a maximum price of a college degree for up to six years, observing that “institutions are subject to fluctuations in cost and state budget variations.” Finally, President Snyder expressed concerns about the bill’s proposed limitations on loans for graduate and professional degrees and elimination of PLUS loans.  

AAU also joined the American Council on Education and 13 other higher education associations in sending another letter outlining problematic provisions in the bill. The College Cost Reduction Act will now head to the House floor for a vote, but the timing for that is uncertain. 

The logo for the National Science FoundationNational Science Foundation Establishes 10 Regional Innovation Engines

The National Science Foundation announced last week that it has selected 10 teams as winners of the NSF Regional Innovation Engines competition authorized by the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. Each NSF Engine is eligible to receive up to $160 million in funding over 10 years in support of research and development efforts that create significant regional economic and social benefits.

According to the agency, the “NSF Engines represent one of the single largest broad investments in place-based research and development in the nation’s history.” NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said that the engines “hold significant promise to elevate and transform entire geographic regions into world-leading hubs of innovation.”

Arizona State University is the lead in the Southwest Sustainability Innovation Engine along with the University of Utah as partner. The engine “aims to equitably transform water security, renewable energy and net carbon emissions” in the American Southwest. Other NSF Engines with AAU institutions as partners include:

Stock image of a non descript bar graphNew White Paper Makes Case for Bolstering Federal Spending on Research and Development

The Special Competitive Studies Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan foundation focused on strengthening American competitiveness, has released a new white paper, Funding for the Future: The Case for Federal R&D Spending. The paper lays out the current federal research and development landscape and notes that the United States “needs to develop a vision for federal R&D spending that extends beyond political cycles.”

The paper argues that the government “is underinvesting in R&D and risks faltering at a time when U.S. technological leadership is critical.” It suggests increasing overall federal R&D funding to 1% of the GDP by 2030; exploring ways to improve the federal funding process; and bolstering nondefense funding in artificial intelligence R&D to $32 billion by FY26. The paper’s findings are consistent with the arguments AAU has been making as part of our Fund American Science campaign, which calls on Congress to fulfill the promise of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 and to fully fund the amounts it authorized for federal science agencies.

FEATURED RESOURCE: Reinvigorating the Government-University Partnership That Fosters Innovation

A graduation cap on a stack of booksNew Report Emphasizes the Value of a Bachelor’s Degree

A new report published by the American Enterprise Institute finds that, despite Americans’ declining confidence in the value of higher education, “four-year degrees continue to be associated with significant economic and noneconomic benefits for individuals and communities.”

According to the report, “There is no question that attaining a bachelor’s degree is associated with a significant earnings premium.” Further, in addition to improved economic outcomes, a bachelor’s degree also delivers several health and social benefits. For example, college graduates are more likely to “volunteer, vote, and participate in their communities” and their “life expectancy at age 25 is seven years longer” compared to those who hold high school diplomas or less.

The report cautions, however, that students must consider their own personal circumstances as well as ability to pay for and complete a degree before enrolling in college. “For those who want to attend college, have adequate financing options, and can finish their degrees, the benefits of a four-year degree are significant regardless of major chosen,” the report concludes.

News of Interest

Hartford CourantYale Deans: Congress Shouldn’t Help One Set of Students by Denying Essential Aid to Others – In an opinion essay, deans of the Yale School of Nursing, Yale School of Public Health, and Yale School of Medicine call on Congress to find another way to fund the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act. The legislation, in its current form, would offset the cost of providing grants for short-term job training by denying federal loans to students enrolled in institutions subject to the endowment tax, including those students “studying to be doctors, nurses, physicians assistants and public health practitioners.” The deans argue: “It doesn’t make sense to help one set of students by denying essential aid to others – especially health workers in short supply.”

Houston Business JournalRice University, Houston Methodist Open New Center for Neural Systems Restoration – Rice University and Houston Methodist hospital have joined forces to create a new “interdisciplinary center for neuroscience research and treatment innovation.” The Center for Neural Systems Restoration will “utilize engineering solutions” to “restore function for those who suffer from neurological disease or injury.”

ForbesStudents Teach This Solutions-Based Environmental Class at UC Berkeley – A two-credit course at the University of California, Berkeley “has become the largest student-led class in university history, garnering praise from attendees, major media and higher education leaders.” The course, “Solutions for a Sustainable & Just Future,” is focused on environmental education and solutions.

Inside Higher EdState Support for Colleges Grew as Stimulus Funds Ebbed – State funding for higher education went up by 10.2% in FY24 ($126.45 billion) compared to FY23 ($114.73 billion). Nineteen states, including Florida and Texas, increased spending by at least 10%, “while nine states and the District of Columbia showed declines in spending.”

Times Beacon RecordSBU Plans to Add Faculty and Bolster Artificial Intelligence This Year – For Stony Brook University, 2024 will be a year of growth. The university is planning to hire more student advisers and faculty; offer more and affordable study abroad opportunities to students; expand its approach to using AI in the classroom and in research; and offer more classes and research experiences for students.

The Boston GlobeTufts Celebrates First Class of Incarcerated Graduates at MCI-Concord – Ten incarcerated students recently became Tufts University’s “first group of graduates to earn a bachelor’s degree” inside a Massachusetts state prison. Students earned their degrees in civic studies through the Tufts University Prison Initiative.

Featured Research

2 llamas on a rocky hill

Llamas Help Mitigate Effects of Climate Change

Experimental research in the Andes, led by scientists at the University of Texas at Austin, found that introducing llamas “into land exposed by retreating glaciers can speed the establishment of stable soils and ecosystem formation, mitigating some of the harmful effects of climate change.”

A person checking their insulin

New Cause of Diabetes Discovered

Scientists still don’t fully understand the reason behind insulin resistance in diabetic individuals. Now researchers at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals in Cleveland have “identified an enzyme that blocks insulin produced in the body – a discovery that could provide a new target to treat diabetes.”

From Our Feeds


A tweet from AAU about Brown University's support of Ukrainian oncologists

The Legorreta Cancer Center at Brown University is hosting two visiting oncologists from Kyiv. Dinara Ryspayeva and Nataliia Verovkina are getting clinical experience, conducting research, and collaborating with Brown medical students and oncologists. “We wanted to create an opportunity here to learn some things that could benefit translational and basic cancer research back in Ukraine and also offer them the opportunity of clinical experiences,” said Legorreta Cancer Center Director Wafik El-Deiry.