Starting Fresh —
In President Biden we have a new Chief Executive from a different political party. He brings a new perspective on higher education that will be realized by his own leadership team at the U.S. Department of Education. We also have a new majority in the U.S. Senate.
Now it’s up to us to forge the relationships that will help us to convey the importance of independent higher education to our nation and South Carolina.
The importance of those lines of communication was apparent when we reviewed the details of the $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” President Biden announced just before his inauguration. The package includes a total of $170 billion for K-12 education and higher education (CRRSA, the CARES Act supplemental aid legislation passed in December, had $82 billion for education support.) but excludes most SCICU member institutions – independent higher education as a sector is NOT included in this funding. The plan provides $35 billion in funding for two- and four-year public institutions, as well as public and private Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs).
The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) President Barbara K. Mistick issued a statement in which she acknowledged the funding for HBCUs, but stressed:
“NAICU is very disappointed that the majority of the nation’s private, nonprofit colleges and universities were excluded from the Biden plan. This awful virus does not distinguish among types of colleges and neither should our unified national fight against this disease.”
NAICU and its partner state organizations, like SCICU, are now reaching out to the Biden administration and members of Congress to ensure that we are included in the American Rescue Plan, as our needs are just as significant as other higher education sectors and our contributions to America’s recovery from COVID-19 are just as profound.
We also have significant common ground on which to build. We are very pleased that the Biden administration has expressed a commitment to doubling federal Pell Grants which help economically disadvantaged students attend whatever college or university best meets their needs. Fully 45 percent of students at SCICU member institutions qualify for Pell Grants.
It’s also incumbent upon us to make clear that proposals to make two-year college free and provide free tuition at public universities for those with household incomes less than $125,000 are counterproductive efforts to pick winners and losers among institutions of higher education, limiting the options available to students, particularly those with financial challenges. A far better alternative is to bolster the Pell Grant program and let students decide what college or university they want to attend.
On his first day, President Biden announced a series of initiatives that reverse actions taken by the Trump administration:
- Repealed the travel ban that barred visitors, including students, from several predominantly Muslim countries. This change may contribute to a rebound in enrollment of international students, which had declined in response to actions by the Trump administration and COVID-19.
- Issued a proclamation calling on Congress to adopt legislation that gives DACA recipients permanent legal status and a path to citizenship. He has committed to sending a bill to Congress in the first 100 days of his administration.
- Extended, through September, the moratorium on federal student-loan payments. This action is a benefit to recent graduates and their families who have experienced financial disruptions from COVID-19.
- Issued an order asserting that Title IX’s protections based on sex extend also to sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Repealed the executive order barring diversity training by federal grantees and contractors. Several colleges announced they would halt such training after the Trump order was issued, sparking criticism that their commitment to diversity and inclusion was shallow to begin with.
On The Back End…
In its last days, the Trump administration issued guidances that affect significant elements of campus operations:
- Extended the waiver of certain accreditation requirements for programs that went online due to the pandemic. The waiver, which temporarily allows colleges and universities to continue offering distance education programs without seeking approval from their accreditor, has been extended through the end of the payment period that begins after the date on which the federally declared COVID-19 emergency is rescinded. However, it also prohibits campuses from offering any part of a program online without approval from an accreditor. Previously, campuses could offer up to 50 percent of a program online (or have up to 50 percent of the students enrolled in distance education) before having to secure approval from an accreditor.
- Provided updated guidance regarding Title IX (that’s likely short-lived). In response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton, which held that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals are protected under a federal employment discrimination law, the new guidance acknowledges that discrimination based on sex may sometimes cover discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. However, it placed significant limits related to transgender students’ participation in athletics and access to shared facilities such as restrooms. The Biden administration has already issued a Title IX order (see above) that will likely render this guidance moot.
New College Scorecard Features
The U.S. Department of Education recently added information to the College Scorecard in an effort to provide greater transparency regarding student outcomes at colleges and universities. The Department has added program-level data on median earnings two years after students graduate.
The Department also updated the site by adding new information regarding student loan repayment to the consumer information tool.
The new data show the percentages of borrowers who fall into eight loan repayment statuses two years after entering repayment: paid in full, making progress, delinquency, forbearance, default, not making progress, deferment and loans discharged.
Additionally, the Scorecard now shows the percentage of student loans paid down by entire cohorts of students one, four, five, ten, and 20 years after entering repayment.