In his first weeks in office, President Biden has promised to reverse several Trump-administration policies and introduce new measures to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. The Chronicle is tracking those developments and breaking down what they mean for higher education.
11:30 a.m. Eastern, 2/1/2021
No Money for Higher Ed in GOP Senators’ Coronavirus Aid Proposal
Ten Republican Senators are visiting the White House today to propose a compromise bill for coronavirus aid that contains no financial help for higher education.
President Biden has asked Congress to approve $1.9 trillion in aid to offset the financial damage of the pandemic, including $35 billion to help colleges weather the downturn in enrollment and increased operating costs.
According to news accounts, the GOP package totals about $618 billion, which is less than a third the size of Biden’s plan.
Higher-education groups were quick to dismiss the Republican offer. “The proposal completely ignores the massive financial hit that colleges and universities are facing and the impact to their critical mission,” said a statement today from the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. —Eric Kelderman
6:01 p.m. Eastern, 1/29/2021
Education Department Encourages Financial-Aid Adjustments for Students’ New Financial Realities
In light of the Covid-19 crisis, financial-aid administrators can and should adjust students’ eligibility profiles to reflect realities such as job losses, an Education Department official said in guidance published on Friday.
The guidance came a week after an executive order from President Biden urged federal agencies to deal with the financial impact of the pandemic.
“It’s a welcome reminder,” said Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. “We also encouraged schools to do whatever’s within their power to help students and families that are facing income disruption. We’re glad to have the department’s partnership on this.”
The guidance doesn’t give financial-aid administrators new powers. Instead, it underscores authority already granted them by Congress. Administrators can consider a recent reduction in work hours or a layoff in the family — circumstances that are increasingly common during the pandemic — that might make a student newly qualified for a Pell Grant or other need-based aid.
In addition, the department extended its promise not to use high rates of such adjustments in determining which financial-aid offices it will review. —Francie Diep
4:51 p.m. Eastern, 1/27/2021
Biden Administration Signals Support for HBCUs
The White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond has invited presidents of historically Black colleges to a teleconference on Friday, HBCU Digest reported. The United Negro College Fund’s senior vice president for public policy and government affairs, Lodriguez Murray, sent a note to college presidents encouraging them to join the conference, the group’s communications manager confirmed.
The news comes one day after President Biden made remarks at the White House about racial equity and alluded to better funding for HBCUs. “Just imagine how much more creative and innovative we’d be if this nation held the historically Black colleges and universities to the same opportunities,” Biden said, “and minority-serving institutions had the same funding and resources of public universities to compete for jobs in industries of the future.”
Advocates of historically Black colleges are hoping for a renaissance in their sector under the new administration, The Chronicle reported this week, especially since the new vice president, Kamala D. Harris, is a graduate of one — Howard University. They hope to see the Biden administration double the maximum Pell Grant and increase funding for research at HBCUs, among other priorities. —Nell Gluckman
1:50 p.m. Eastern, 1/26/2021
Labor-Relations Appointee Supported College Athletes’ Right to Unionize
President Biden on Monday named Peter Sung Ohr, a veteran regional director of the National Labor Relations Board, as the board’s acting general counsel. Biden’s pick was widely viewed as a sign that the president plans to follow through on his pledge to be a strong advocate for workers and their right to organize.
Ohr wrote the 2014 decision affirming that Northwestern University football players were employees who were legally entitled to unionize. (Those efforts were scuttled the following year, when the labor board declined to take up their case.)
On his inauguration day, Biden fired former President Donald J. Trump’s appointee as the NLRB’s general counsel, Peter Robb, who ruled last year that Uber drivers were not employees entitled to organize. Robb was dismissed after refusing to resign.
In a statement on Monday, Ohr said he looked forward “to actively engaging the public to ensure workers’ fundamental rights of association at the workplace are protected to the fullest extent of the law.” —Katherine Mangan
4:40 p.m. Eastern, 1/25/2021
Biden Ends the Ban on Transgender People in the Armed Forces. Will Military Academies Follow Suit?
President Biden signed an executive order on Monday revoking former President Donald J. Trump’s 2018 ban on transgender people in the U.S. military, a move that calls into question the admissions policies of two military academies.
Following Trump’s ban, the U.S. Naval and U.S. Coast Guard Academies said they would not admit transgender students. A spokesman for the Coast Guard Academy said on Monday that it was too soon to say exactly how the institution’s admissions policy would change as a result of Biden’s order. An email to the Naval Academy’s press office was not immediately returned. —Nell Gluckman
3:05 p.m. Eastern, 1/25/2021
Biden’s Pick for Education Secretary Talks Student Loans and Community College
Miguel Cardona, Connecticut’s education commissioner and President Biden’s nominee for education secretary, has devoted his career to elementary and secondary education, meaning his views on college are a little less clear. But in an interview with Connecticut Public Radio on Monday, he spoke about his positions on higher-education issues that he will have to make decisions on if he’s confirmed. Here are some of the priorities he discussed:
- Supporting vulnerable students: When asked about the role colleges and universities should play in combating learning loss because of the pandemic, Cardona said his focus would be on “not losing students who might have been more impacted by the losses of Covid-19 and the pandemic.”
- Student-loan debt relief: Cardona said that helping Americans who hold student-loan debt would be a priority for him. He supports the president’s plan “to provide some relief for college students.”
- Community-college access: He emphasized the importance of community colleges and agreed with Biden’s plan to make them “no cost.” He said community colleges needed to be accessible not only to students in the elementary- and secondary-school system, but also to adults looking to make advances in their careers.
- Building pathways to student success: Cardona spoke about “blurring the lines” between higher education and the precollege school system by creating dual-enrollment programs. For students who would benefit from a degree, understanding how to get one “has to be clearer,” he said. “It has to be an easier reach.” —Nell Gluckman
11:41 a.m. Eastern, 1/23/2021
A Troubled Accreditor Is Under Scrutiny Once Again
The U.S. Department of Education on Friday recommended terminating recognition of the troubled Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, or Acics, whose membership consists largely of for-profit career colleges. The accreditor’s status is scheduled to be debated next month by a federal advisory panel before the new Education Department leadership will decide whether to, once again, revoke Acics’ status as a gatekeeper of federal student aid.
The move marks the latest reversal in a series of back-and-forth decisions. In 2016, under President Barack Obama, department officials revoked the accreditor’s recognition, accusing it of lax oversight of institutions like ITT Educational Services Inc. and Corinthian Colleges, which had gone out of business and left their students with degrees of dubious value and substantial debt.
In 2018 a U.S. District Court judge found that the department had “procedurally erred” in its decision, and remanded the case to the education secretary at the time, Betsy DeVos, who later reversed the decision and preserved the recognition.
In their latest salvo, department officials said the accrediting agency had “failed to demonstrate that it consistently trains its representatives for their roles and follows its own policies and procedures, as required by regulation.” —Dan Berrett
12:55 p.m. Eastern, 1/22/2021
What Colleges Should Know About Biden’s Executive Order on Reopening
President Biden on Thursday issued an executive order directing federal agencies to support the safe reopening of schools and colleges, and equal access to online education, as the pandemic rages on.
The order notes that Covid-19 has only widened the country’s educational-equity gap, and includes several measures aimed at closing it.
Here’s what the executive order could mean for higher ed:
Colleges will get guidance for reopening based on their location, resources, and population. The order directs the Departments of Education and of Health and Human Services to work together on evidence-based guidance that takes those circumstances into account, indicating that the administration wants to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach.
It calls for equitable distribution of testing supplies and widespread contact tracing. The Education Department should support contact tracing “to the maximum extent possible,” the order says.
A Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse is coming. The executive order envisions a repository where institutions can share what they’ve learned from operating in the pandemic.
Supporting online learning is a top priority. Biden’s order directs the education secretary to give schools and colleges the technical help they need to offer high-quality remote learning. It also encourages the Federal Communications Commission to offer more options for internet access to students who don’t have broadband at home.
Information-gathering efforts will focus on socioeconomic disparities. The executive order directs federal agencies to collect data on the pandemic’s effects on education, particularly socioeconomic disparities. It specifically calls for information about historically Black colleges, Hispanic- and minority-serving institutions, and tribal colleges.
A wide range of education stakeholders and experts will be asked for input. Federal agencies have been directed to consult with everyone from state and local officials to educators and unions as they develop strategies to deal with the pandemic’s effects on educational outcomes. —Rachel Cieri Mull
11:45 a.m. Eastern, 1/22/2021
Biden’s Immigration-Reform Bill Could Encourage International Enrollment
President Biden is proposing a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, including a measure that could encourage enrollment of international graduate students.
The bill, which was to be sent to Congress on Biden’s first day in office, would make it easier for foreign graduate students with STEM degrees to remain in the United States, by exempting them from caps on visas, according to a summary of the legislation by The National Law Review. —Eric Kelderman
7:39 p.m. Eastern, 1/21/2021
Columbia U. Official Is Named to Education Dept. Post Overseeing Title IX Enforcement
Suzanne B. Goldberg, a Columbia University law professor and administrator, was appointed on Thursday to a key role in the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. The office oversees the federal government’s enforcement of Title IX, the law that covers campus sexual misconduct and LGBTQ rights, among other things.
President Biden named Goldberg as a deputy assistant secretary and, for now, as acting assistant secretary for civil rights — the office’s top job. Goldberg, an expert on gender and sexuality law, has for the past six years served as Columbia’s vice president for university life, where she worked closely with the institution’s Title IX office and its handling of cases of sexual assault and harassment. See the Columbia Daily Spectator for a more detailed rundown of her tenure.
When Biden was vice president, he spearheaded the Obama administration’s aggressive enforcement of Title IX, a period that was cheered and criticized. Back then, the civil-rights office issued several guidance documents imploring colleges to take victims’ reports of sexual misconduct more seriously and threatening to take away institutions’ federal funding if they didn’t comply.
The Trump administration rescinded most of the Obama-era guidance, saying the directives had created an unfair system that was biased in favor of victims and railroaded many students accused of wrongdoing. The Trump-era Education Department went through a yearslong process to issue regulations under Title IX. The new rules, which went into effect in August, require colleges to ramp up their due-process protections.
Biden has vowed to put a “quick end” to the Title IX rules as president. Goldberg wrote in The Chronicle in 2019 that she doesn’t support at least one of the regulatory mandates introduced by the Trump administration: cross examination, in which the students involved in a sexual-misconduct case have the opportunity, through their advisers, to directly question each other’s version of events at a live hearing. “Campuses are not courtrooms,” she wrote. —Sarah Brown
5:50 p.m. Eastern, 1/21/2021
Biden Requests $35 Billion for Higher Ed in Plan for Safe Reopening
Colleges struggling to reopen in person this spring would get $35 billion in extra “emergency stabilization funds” if Congress approves a comprehensive package of Covid-19 relief requested on Thursday by the Biden administration.
The request for emergency funds, which would allow for more testing at underresourced colleges and clear guidance on safe campus reopening, is included in the president’s National Strategy for the Covid-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness. The plan would also provide information to students, faculty, and staff on how and where to be vaccinated.
It points out that college enrollment for high-school graduates fell by more than 20 percent from 2019 to 2020. Students in low-income families were nearly twice as likely as others to report that they had canceled plans to attend college.
“Reopening and keeping colleges open is critical to ensuring that all Americans have a shot at a college credential — but it must be done safely, to protect the health of students, faculty, staff, and the broader community,” the plan states.
Working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal Department of Education will also provide colleges with “the latest science-backed and data-driven recommendations on how and when to open,” according to the plan.
Under the Trump administration, colleges had to rely on CDC guidance and their own scientists for reopening plans, some of which ultimately failed, forcing them to send students home. —Katherine Mangan
12:55 p.m. Eastern, 1/21/2021
Under Biden, Title IX Will Protect Transgender Students’ Rights
As part of a sweeping series of executive actions on his first day in office, President Biden issued an order asserting that Title IX’s protections based on sex extend also to sexual orientation and gender identity — a major win for transgender students and their advocates.
The order effectively reversed the approach of the Trump administration, which had stripped civil-rights protections from transgender students.
Biden’s order used as its basis the Supreme Court’s 2020 Bostock ruling, which said that Title VII, the civil-rights law covering employment, protects LGBTQ workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. By that logic, the order stated, “laws that prohibit sex discrimination, including Title IX … prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.”
The Human Rights Campaign called it “the most substantive, wide-ranging executive order concerning sexual orientation and gender identity ever issued by a United States president.”
Critics raised alarms about transgender students’ participation in high-school and college sports, and their use of facilities like bathrooms and locker rooms based on gender identity. Recent lawsuits filed on behalf of female athletes contend that transgender girls and women have an unfair advantage and shouldn’t be allowed to compete in female-only athletic events.
Most colleges already cover sexual orientation and gender identity in their nondiscrimination policies, but Biden’s order will offer LGBTQ students more robust protections and allow them to file federal complaints against their institutions for failing to uphold their rights. —Sarah Brown
5:38 p.m. Eastern, 1/20/2021
On First Day in Office, Biden Set to Repeal Trump Policies, Extending DACA and Pause in Student-Loan Payment
After four years in which academe was at loggerheads with the U.S. president, there are already signs that the new administration is taking a more friendly stance toward higher education. Within hours of taking the oath of office, President Biden was set to start undoing the legacy of his predecessor by signing several executive orders that will directly affect colleges and college students.
Those executive orders include:
- Repealing the travel ban that barred students and other visitors from a number of predominantly Muslim countries. The ban was one of the first executive orders of the previous administration, and contributed to declines in what had been robust increases in international enrollment.
- Restoring protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The Obama-era legal protections provided to undocumented residents who had been brought to the United States as minors — known as Dreamers — meant that many more such students could enroll in college without fear of being deported. The Trump administration had sought unsuccessfully to end the program.
- Extending the moratorium on federal student-loan payments. Most borrowers with federal student loans have not had to make a payment since the first coronavirus stimulus package was enacted, in March. But that pause in payments was set to expire this month. Under Biden’s executive order, the pause will continue through September.
- Repealing the executive order that barred 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.
The president has also named Rohit Chopra, a strong advocate for student-loan borrowers, to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The selection of Chopra, who previously served as the bureau’s student-loan ombudsman, is a sign that the White House wants aggressive oversight of student-loan servicers. Our Vimal Patel has more.
The Biden administration also will put an end to the so-called “1776 Commission,” according to news accounts. The panel published a faux-historical report a few days ago that was widely panned by academics as a whitewash of U.S. history. As of Wednesday afternoon, the website for the commission, a response to the 1619 Project by The New York Times, was no longer active. —Eric Kelderman