The WACAC Government Relations Advocacy Committee will continue to monitor political developments in the Western region and nationally as we approach the 2016 General Election. If you want to help to make a difference and improve educational access and equity in the West, consider joining the Government Relations and Action Committee. For more information, please contact GRAC Chair Breanne Boyle.

jonriceBy Jon Rice, University of San Francisco

California Outlook

As we head into the end of the legislative session in California and the depths of the 2016 campaign cycle, there are a number of bills statewide that potentially affect WACAC members and the education community as a whole. This prospective legislation focuses primarily on college readiness and financial aid.

SB 1050 – Postsecondary education; college readiness

Primary Issue: While California’s high school graduation rate stands at 81 percent, only 42 percent of high school graduates meet the “A-G” admission requirements for the state’s public universities.

Key Points: This bill, sponsored by Sen. Kevin de Leon (D), would take two major steps to address this major roadblock in the path to college: First, it would require the California Department of Education to collect and post online a list of schools that have 75% or greater enrollment of “unduplicated pupils”, defined as students who are classified as English learners, eligible for free or reduced lunch, or foster youths. Second, it would establish a college readiness grant to help prepare these “unduplicated pupils” to be eligible for postsecondary admission. The block grant could be used for counseling, professional development, honors or AP class development, and course materials. Finally, the bill implores the UC system to create a plan for increased admission of California resident students and support systems for “unduplicated pupils.”

Status: At this time, SB 1050 is on track to be signed by the governor and made law.

Other major bills include AB 1721, which increases the maximum award for access costs under Cal Grant B and AB 1837, which establishes a statewide Office of Higher Education Performance and Accountability that will, most notably, advise State leadership on the need and location of new postsecondary campuses in California. Looking towards November, half of the California Senate and all of the Assembly will be up for election.

National Outlook

At the national level, late spring and early summer saw numerous political developments affecting higher education. Perhaps most prominently, the Supreme Court upheld the University of Texas – Austin’s race-conscious admission policy, realizing the importance of maintaining diversity on America’s college campuses.

Federally, the Department of Education proposed new regulations to protect student borrowers and taxpayers from predatory postsecondary institutions. Most notably, the suggested rule includes a ban on adding forced arbitration clauses in enrollment agreements, which ban a student from pursuing litigation in court against institutions. In defending student rights, NACAC supports a ban on forced arbitration clauses.