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Leading Research Universities Report, June 19, 2023

woman working in a laboratoryNIH Working Group Issues Guiding Principles to Improve the Postdoctoral Experience

Earlier this month, the National Institutes of Health’s Advisory Committee to the Director Working Group on Re-envisioning NIH-Supported Postdoctoral Training issued guiding principles to help improve the postdoctoral training system in the United States. AAU Deputy Vice President for Institutional Policy Emily Miller is a member of the working group.

The U.S. research enterprise is highly dependent on postdocs – individuals who have completed their doctoral studies and professionally conduct research, produce scholarship, and receive additional training or mentorship from faculty and senior scientists at universities, research institutes, or corporate laboratories. The working group has been gathering over the past few months to draft recommendations for how the NIH can best support postdocs and reverse the decline in the number of individuals interested in working as postdocs.

The guiding principles will help shape the working group’s final recommendations that will be issued in December. The principles suggest boosting postdoc wages “with regular cost-of-living adjustments and employee-level benefits;” creating inclusive work environments; capping the duration of postdoc tenures to a finite number of years; creating or expanding funding mechanisms and resources to “better support the postdoctoral experience and career paths;” improving salary and benefits for international postdocs; and improving accountability to ensure that postdocs “receive quality mentorship and professional development opportunities.”

The guiding principles were informed heavily by feedback from the university and biomedical community – more than 1,500 individuals participated in four listening sessions held by the working group in March. The group also reviewed 3,252 responses that were submitted in response to a request for information in February. A presentation with a summary of the working group’s existing findings and the guiding principles is available here; recordings and materials from the working group’s listening sessions are available here.

The flags of the United States & IndiaAAU’s U.S.-India Task Force to Release Interim Report This Week

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting the United States this week. The prime minister is expected to visit the White House for a state dinner and address a joint session of Congress on June 22. In anticipation of the prime minister’s visit, the AAU Task Force on Expanding U.S.-India University Partnerships is readying an interim report containing some preliminary recommendations on how the United States and India might better partner to significantly expand collaboration between their universities. The task force expects to release the interim report this week to coincide with the prime minister’s visit.

AAU President Barbara R. Snyder spoke to the Hindustan Times about the task force and the interim report. “These two countries share the same values. They care about higher education and research and understand the benefits it brings to their countries, economies, national security, public health, and quality of life. There is tremendous potential in working together,” she said.

ICYMI: Barbara’s Blog: Creating a Strategic Research Partnership with India

Students holding their graduation capsSenate Republicans Introduce Lowering Education Costs and Debt Act

Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Ranking Member Bill Cassidy (R-LA) joined Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), and Tim Scott (R-SC) last week to introduce the Lowering Education Costs and Debt Act. The act is a package of five bills, including the College Transparency Act, the Understanding the True Cost of College Act, the Informed Student Borrowing Act, the Streamlining Accountability and Value in Education (SAVE) for Students Act, and the Graduate Opportunity and Affordable Loans (GOAL) Act. A one-pager on the package is available here.

The package contains a variety of measures aimed at lowering the cost of college, reducing student debt burden, and helping students make informed decisions about their higher education. In a press conference introducing the legislation, Sen. Cassidy said that the College Transparency Act included in the package “makes available information on cost, enrollment, retention, completion, and post-college earnings of a particular university or program.” AAU has endorsed the CTA.

A graduation cap and small piles of money next to a note pad with the words Federal Student AidAAU, Associations Ask ED to Improve Need Analysis Formula Before FAFSA’s Launch

Earlier this month, AAU joined the American Council on Education and 15 other higher education associations and organizations in a letter asking Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to perform a “comprehensive analysis” of the FAFSA need analysis formula and to “work closely with institutions to help them better serve students given the changes to the need analysis formula” in the FAFSA Simplification Act of 2020. The letter noted that institutions “still lack a clear understanding” of how changes to the FAFSA form and methodology “will impact current and future aid-eligible students.” The letter stated: “Given that the changes to the need analysis formula take effect on July 1, 2024, we believe that it is urgent for the Department to do this comprehensive analysis.”

Aclose up of the capitol building on back of a fifty dollar billFY24 Appropriations Update

Last week, the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee and the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies subcommittee approved their respective FY24 spending bills. The full House Appropriations Committee also approved the FY24 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies bill. This bill provides an increase of $5 million to the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s flagship competitive research program. The increase is of note as the bill cuts the overall funding level ($1.69 billion) for AFRI’s parent institute, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, by $9.5 million.

The full House Appropriations Committee also approved FY24 subcommittee allocations in a party line vote of 33-27. Subcommittee allocations establish the spending cap for each of the 12 annual appropriations bills in Congress; once the spending caps are established, appropriations subcommittees in the House and the Senate determine how the allocated funds are spent among the various federal agencies and programs within their jurisdiction. The House Appropriations Committee set the topline spending figure below the $1.59 trillion topline agreed to in the debt ceiling package recently passed by Congress; the committee instead set the topline figure to $1.47 trillion.

Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to begin consideration of FY24 spending bills on June 22. Senate appropriators have noted that they will stick to the spending caps agreed to in the debt ceiling package.

Congressional Armed Services Committees to Consider FY24 NDAA This Week

Both the House and the Senate Armed Services Committees are expected to consider the FY24 National Defense Authorization Act this week. The full House Armed Services Committee will consider the chairman’s mark of the FY24 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2670) on June 21.

Subcommittees of the Senate Armed Services Committee will consider the bill on June 20 and 21. The full committee will consider the bill on June 21 and, if needed, on June 22 and 23. The Senate committee and subcommittee markups are generally closed to the public. The full markup schedule for the Senate committee is available here.

News of Interest

The Boston Globe: Speaking Up on Campus Doesn’t Mean Shouting Down Others – Dartmouth College President Phil Hanlon and Dartmouth President-Elect Sian Beilock contend that self-censorship is the biggest threat to academic freedom on college campuses and that higher education must equip students with skills that allow them to “engage in productive discourse” without being silenced or silencing others. Instead of “safe spaces,” they argue, colleges and universities should cultivate “brave spaces” where students can encounter challenging ideas and concepts and learn to debate the relative merits of those ideas.

CNN: Student Loan Payments Will Be Due Starting in October, Department of Education Clarifies – The Department of Education clarified last week that interest on student loans will resume on September 1 and payments will resume in October. The department said it will notify borrowers before payments restart.

The Chronicle of Higher Education: Prospective College Students Increasingly Say They Feel Unprepared for Higher Education – Twenty-two percent of high school students interviewed in a recent survey said that “they weren’t ready for college due to a lack of emotional and academic preparedness.” The numbers were even higher for first-generation and low-income students.

The Dallas Morning News: Gov. Abbott Signs DEI Bill into Law, Dismantling Diversity Offices at Colleges – Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill that requires colleges and universities in Texas to eliminate diversity, equity, and inclusion offices as well as diversity statements and trainings starting January 2024. Prior to the signing of the bill, University of Texas at Austin President Jay Hartzell released a statement noting that the bill would not change the university’s “commitment to attracting, supporting and retaining exceptionally talented staff, faculty and students with diverse backgrounds and perspectives, and fostering and celebrating diversity across our community.”

The Wall Street Journal: Dartmouth Launches Center for Artificial Intelligence, Precision Medicine – The college enrollment rate for recent high school graduates dropped to 62% in 2022 compared to 66.29% in 2019. Instead of college, high school graduates are turning to blue-collar jobs that do not require college degrees or to apprenticeships that provide job training in particular industries.

Featured Research

Man asleep with nodes attached to his face

Researchers Develop Wireless Monitoring to Detect Sleep Apnea at Home

Individuals who suffer from sleep disorders must currently go to a medical facility overnight for diagnosis. Now researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have created a home wearable device that can “accurately measure obstructive sleep apnea – when the body repeatedly stop and restarts breathing for a period – as well as the quality of sleep people get when they are at rest.”

over head shot of apartment buildings along a beach

Rising Seas Are Causing Septic Systems to Fail

Rising sea levels and heavy rains in coastal areas are causing septic systems to fail, “creating risks to clean water, ecosystems, and public health.” Researchers at the University of Miami are studying the risks of climate change to septic systems, identifying septic systems in the Miami-Dade area that are at risk of failure, and developing solutions such as connecting septic systems to municipal sewer lines or putting into place “micro sewer treatment systems.”

Stat of the Week


AAU Members Educate More than 1.5 Million Undergraduate Students Each Year

America’s leading research universities educate more than 1.5 million undergraduate students each year. AAU members provide excellent value to their students – undergraduates at our universities are much more likely to complete their bachelor’s degrees on time and 57% of AAU graduates earn their degrees debt-free.