Two key higher education priorities of the Obama administration, need-based Pell Grants and the regulation of for-profit colleges, emerged untouched in the last-minute budget deal reached last week.

Even members of Congress were vague on details of the budget deal after its passage Friday night. But we know from the White House blog that the deal maintains the maximum Pell Grant award at $5,500.

The Obama administration last year built the most significant student-aid bill in a generation around boosting Pell, a program that once funded most of the cost of a public college education but has dwindled in value.

Congressional Republicans proposed cutting Pell, and as recently as last week, Pell advocates feared colleges would have to cut financial aid awards to students who already had been admitted and awarded aid.

Rich Williams, higher education advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group — an ardent Pell supporter — said he suspects a separate summer Pell program was cut in order to protect the traditional school-year program.

Last week, U.S. PIRG led a campaign to raise awareness about the prospect that a late-spring cut to Pell would disrupt the aid process after many students had already decided on a college and after colleges had already told students how much aid to expect.

“The budget deal finalizes financial aid packages, allowing millions of families to breathe a sigh of relief,” he said in a statement.

The administration and congressional Democrats also appear to have averted an attempt by Republicans to insert language in the budget that would have blocked the federal government from using fiscal 2011 funds to implement a proposed “gainful employment” regulation on for-profit colleges.

The Education Department wants to enact a new rule that would regulate programs according to the relative debt and earning power of their graduates. Programs that leave students in too much debt and with too little earnings would be restricted or shut down.

Blocking that rule till fall or later was among 66 “riders” Republicans had wanted to add to the budget bill.

But a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, told Inside Higher Ed that “Senator Reid and the White House firmly said no.”

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