April 2024 Federal Updates: Insights and Priorities

May 6, 2024 | By Mary Gatta and Alanna Suda

Legislation & Regulations
The U.S. Capitol.

TAGS: legal issues, nace insights,

In early April, as the cherry blossoms reached full bloom in Washington D.C., Congress returned to town after a two-week recess. Before the recess, Congress wrapped up the FY2024 appropriations funding bills, including the Labor-HHS-Education bill, which contains most of the funding for education and workforce programs.

Shortly after the bill's passage, House Republican Appropriations Committee Chair Kay Granger announced that she would be stepping down as Chair of the Committee. House Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole was elected to take over as the new Chair.

Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene also filed a motion to remove House Speaker Mike Johnson from the Speaker’s office. The impetus for the motion was that Speaker Johnson worked with Democrats to ensure passage of the appropriations bills and did not fight for the larger cuts some Republicans were seeking. Additionally, Congress passed a $95 billion foreign aid package that included aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. Congresswoman Greene plans to force a vote on ousting the Speaker. Top House Democrats said that they would vote to save the Speaker by voting to table Greene’s motion to vacate.

Education Policy

The biggest issue consuming both Congress and the Administration right now in the education space is how to address the continued errors by the Department of Education and the resulting lack of clarity surrounding federal aid awards for students attending college next year. In addition, higher education needs to get ready for implementation of the requirement that schools must offer “adequate career services” under Title IV of the Higher Education Act.

FAFSA: To summarize the FAFSA challenges, the Department of Education (DOE) rolled out new FAFSA forms at the end of December 2023, a process that typically starts in October. Right away, many applicants experienced technical issues. The DOE then announced that colleges wouldn’t receive student financial information until March because it wanted to make additional changes to the formula.

In March 2024, the DOE sent out incorrect information to colleges, which further delayed processing. On April 4, 2024, the DOE announced that it would reprocess all federal financial aid forms containing recently reported tax discrepancies. This was in direct conflict with an announcement it made earlier that week stating that it would only reprocess and resend forms with errors that would deprive students of the federal aid for which they were eligible. Adding even more confusion to the already conflicting messages, the DOE said that institutions can choose which record to use—the original with the incorrect data or the corrected, reprocessed one—when creating financial aid offers and encouraged schools that choose to move forward with the initial information to package awards as soon as possible.

The uncertainty forced most institutions to delay financial aid awards and put some students in the position of having to decide on an institution without knowing whether they will be able to pay for it, since many colleges traditionally expect a commitment by May 1. Some institutions are issuing provisional aid offers with the final offers coming when students start classes. The confusion has had a particular impact on low-income and minority students, for whom there have been significant declines in applications. Students from mixed-status families have also had unique challenges because the new forms would not allow them to submit their applications if their parents did not have a Social Security number, even though the students applying are U.S. citizens.

Congress held a hearing on the botched rollout. Lawmakers discussed the months of delays as well as the incorrect financial aid information sent out by the DOE to colleges. There was bipartisan concern over the lack of trust in the data that the DOE is providing to institutions as well as the lack of accountability it has taken throughout the process. The DOE did not have a representative at the hearing. Secretary of Education Cardona, however, recently sent a letter to state governors asking them to urge colleges to move back their decision deadlines and push back state financial aid timelines.

Administrative Capability Regulations and Adequate Career Services: Last year, the DOE released final regulations that make significant changes to the financial responsibility, administrative capability, and certification requirements applicable to higher education institutions that participate in federal student financial aid programs under Title IV of the Higher Education Act. Included in the Administrative Capability portion of the regulations is a requirement that schools must offer “adequate career services.” The regulation applies to both proprietary and nonproprietary institutions and will take effect on July 1, 2024.

The definition of “adequate career services” will be determined by the DOE based on the following considerations:

  • Share of students enrolled in programs designed to prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation;
  • Number and distribution of career services staff;
  • Career services promised to prospective and current students; and
  • Institutional partnerships with recruiters and employers who regularly hire graduates of the institution.

In addition to career services program requirements, the proposed regulations would also require institutions to provide students with accessible clinical or externship opportunities related to and required for completion of the credential or licensure in a recognized occupation, within 45 days of the successful completion of other required coursework. These opportunities would have to be geographically accessible, which the DOE would determine based on factors, such as urban versus rural commuting zones, the degree level, and whether a program is highly specialized. 

The community did raise concerns that this could create real challenges for institutions that do not already have established externship programs, especially since developing relationships with third-party organizations to facilitate a successful externship program can take significant time, and it urged the DOE to consider a more realistic timeline for compliance.

Workforce Policy

On the workforce front, the House made significant progress on its big workforce reauthorization bill with passage on the House floor last week and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced sweeping changes to the Pathways Program to expand opportunities to early career talent for the federal government.

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Reauthorization: On April 9, 2024, the House passed H.R. 6655, A Stronger Workforce for America Act. The bipartisan bill would reauthorize the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which provides funds for state and local education, job training, and labor exchange services to support adults, disabled workers, and youth, as well as businesses seeking skilled workers through fiscal year 2030.

The House bill would allow states to establish funds to pay employers providing skills development to workers in key industries, overhaul eligibility criteria for program training providers, and modify performance indicators used to assess program participant outcomes. The bill now heads to the Senate. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders and ranking member Bill Cassidy have indicated their interest in reauthorizing WIOA this year but have not held hearings in 2023 or 2024, so the timeline for Senate action is unclear.  

Many in the workforce community had hoped that the bill would do more to increase funding levels to better meet current workforce needs and to better support industry partnerships with the workforce system.   

DOL Pathways Rule: The OPM issued a final rule on the Pathways Program, designed to significantly expand opportunities for early career talent in the federal government.

The Pathways Program is made up of the government’s internships for high school and college students, recent graduates, a one- to two-year program for those who have recently completed a degree or certificate, and presidential management fellows programs for people who have attained advanced degrees.

The final rule is one of the most significant actions the federal government has taken since the program’s inception 14 years ago. Updates include:

  • Expanding skills-based hiring through qualifying career or technical education programs;
  • Allowing internship applicants who have completed registered apprenticeship programs or Job Corps to credit time served in those programs toward the work hours needed to convert to a permanent job;
  • Raising the ceiling for starting salaries for recent graduates; and
  • Easing the path for interns to be converted into permanent positions, including lowering the number of hours required to convert from 640 to 480 and expanding the time given to agencies to complete such a conversion.  

These final regulations build on a series of comprehensive actions OPM has taken to help federal agencies recruit early career talent, including:

  • Issuing guidance on promoting internships, fellowships, and apprenticeships;
  • Launching an intern portal for agencies to post internships centrally, making it easier for applicants to find and apply for internships;
  • Creating a centralized Intern Experience Program with resources for current and prospective interns as well as programming; and
  • Launching the Talent Sourcing for America “Level Up to Public Service” pilot program to improve and formalize outreach and recruitment at Minority Serving Institutions. 

We are excited that NACE experts were called upon throughout this process to share our research and expertise.

The regulations are scheduled to take effect on June 11, 2024, but agencies will have until December 7, 2024, to implement the provisions.

Overtime Rule: On April 23, 2024, the Biden Administration announced a final rule to expand overtime protections. Currently, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employees must be paid an overtime premium of 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked beyond 40 in a workweek, unless they fall under an exemption. One of the criteria to qualify for an exemption is earning a weekly salary above a certain level.

Effective July 1, 2024, the salary threshold will increase to the equivalent of an annual salary of $43,888 and increase again to $58,656 on January 1, 2025. The July 1 increase updates the present annual salary threshold of $35,568 based on the methodology used by the prior administration in the 2019 overtime rule update.

On January 1, 2025, the rule’s new methodology takes effect, resulting in an additional increase. In addition, the rule will adjust the threshold for highly compensated employees. Starting July 1, 2027, salary thresholds will update every three years, by applying up-to-date wage data to determine new salary levels.

Additional details on the final rule are available on the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) website. You can also review a copy of the final rule through the Federal Register.   

Although the final rule will likely face legal challenges, there is no guarantee that the DOL will halt its implementation. The higher exempt salary threshold is expected to impact 3.6 million workers.

Looking forward

We will continue to track for you the education and workforce policy movement. It is also helpful to note that the Biden Administration continues to look for ways to provide student loan forgiveness to Americans. It recently announced a new plan that would reduce or wipe out student loans for millions of Americans.  As this process continues, we will share pertinent information.

Also please be sure to visit us at NACE24 in Phoenix. We will be holding a session, The 2024 Presidential Election—What Can It Mean for Career Services and College Recruiting, and will be at the NACE Booth ready to answer any questions on policy and advocacy. See you there!

Mary Gatta, Ph.D., is the director of research and public policy for NACE. Dr. Gatta has more than 20 years of teaching, research, and advocacy experience at colleges and in nonprofit organizations where she worked on issues of career education and workforce development.

Dr. Gatta’s work is centered on evidence-based research analysis to develop new solutions to current problems—particularly around economic security, education, and workforce policies. In all her research projects, she uses an equity and intersectionality lens.

Prior to joining NACE, Dr. Gatta served as an associate professor of sociology at City University of New York-Guttman and faculty director of the Ethnographies of Work program. In addition, she was the research director at the Rutgers University Center for Women and Work and a senior scholar at Wider Opportunities for Women in Washington D.C. Dr. Gatta also served on New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy's Labor and Workforce Development Transition Team.

Dr. Gatta received her bachelor’s degree in social science from Providence College and her master’s and Ph.D. in sociology from Rutgers University.

She can be reached at mgatta@naceweb.org.

author-avatar Alanna Suda is senior vice president, government relations, for MWW. NACE will provide periodic updates on public policy issues affecting career services and recruiting.