dotEDU Episode 09: Student Success Is Institutional Success


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired on November 12, 2019

​​​​​​​Co-hosts Jon Fansmith and Lorelle Espinosa talk with ACE President Ted Mitchell about how higher education is re-imagining student success and the need for institutions to adapt to the changing face of their student bodies. Ted discusses ACE's recent Regional Summit in Kansas City and how higher education can reclaim the high ground and better serve our students ​through the college experience and beyond​. Afterward, Jon and Lorelle talk about rec​​ent developments in Congress and the administration, including the House-passed College Affordability Act and a federal court ruling that found Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in contempt of court for violating a recent order on forgiving student loans.

Episode No​tes

Here are some of the links and references from this week’s show.

Conversation with Ted Mitchell

Post-interview chat on the College Affordability Act, Betsy DeVos​


 Read this episode's transcript

Jon Fansmith [00:00:04] Hello and welcome to dotEDU, the higher education podcast from the American Council on Education. I'm John Farnsmith in ACE's Government Relations Office, and I'm joined by my usual co-host, Lorelle Espinosa, ACE's Vice president of research.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:00:18] Hi.

Jon Fansmith [00:00:19] Hi. How are you doing today?

Lorelle Espinosa [00:00:20] Good, thanks.

Jon Fansmith [00:00:22] I would like to say I'm doing well, too, but we are having an interesting time here in Washington, DC. Not really related to Halloween or any of the usual things that people who might be listening have been experiencing, we're dealing a little bit more with all of the regular chaos. And I'm talking about chaos outside of impeachment, which is this whole brand of chaos.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:00:43] Yeah. Hard to hard to imagine. Yeah, but yes, it's our own brand. That's a good way to put it.

Jon Fansmith [00:00:49] Right. Our own little slice of the pie of chaos here in D.C. and really just the focus on federal funding right now. We have a deadline approaching on November 21st. Congress has yet to identify a way forward. They're meeting next week to actually talk about how they start beginning the process of doing that. And then hopefully we'll have an extension. And now they're talking about December. So maybe we'll see something there. But, you know, all the usual things that keep us busy.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:01:15] And what do what do you think is going to happen? Do you try to the tea leaves.

Jon Fansmith [00:01:20] I try to read the tea leaves. And as you know, I tend to lean on the negative side.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:01:22] Yeah, you're more pessimistic.

Jon Fansmith [00:01:24] So, anyway, it seems like December, we'll have an extension to December and then my guess would be they'll miss that deadline and then we'll go into the new year and then finally things will be resolved. You know, unfortunately the House had a bill that was really, really good for higher education. The Senate had a bill that was not so good.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:01:42] Not so much.

Jon Fansmith [00:01:42] Exactly. Not so much. And so probably we'll be happier with what we see in the end than we were with the Senate bill and not quite as happy as with the House bill. So we'll split the difference.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:01:53] [inaudible].

Jon Fansmith [00:01:54] We would. And I don't want to talk too long about appropriations, because we are going to be joined later by a very special guest.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:02:01] Yes.

Jon Fansmith [00:02:01] Yes, very special guest. Mr. ACE himself.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:02:04] The big boss.

Jon Fansmith [00:02:05] That's right. So this basically means I have to take my usual level of terrible podcasting up to at least mediocre.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:02:12] Right, you're going to have to try extra hard today.

Jon Fansmith [00:02:14] Step up my game. Yeah. That's that. As if there's not enough pressure not to screw up doing this.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:02:18] And maybe we can come back to appropriations later because it is a riveting topic. I think we should do that later.

Jon Fansmith [00:02:24] It's so funny, when you said that I just assumed that was sarcasm because that's most people's response when I tried to talk to them about federal funding. But I appreciate...that seemed sincere. So that was very nice.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:02:33] Oh, it did? OK.Good.

Jon Fansmith [00:02:34] It did. Did we even mention that Mr. ACE, as I referred to him, is Ted Mitchell, the president of ACE?

Lorelle Espinosa [00:02:40] Yes, he is.

Jon Fansmith [00:02:41] And that is the person--the big boss. That's right. People might not know that he is our big boss. Although I guess if you're listening to ACE podcast, hopefully--.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:02:49] Hopefully you know who our leader is.

Jon Fansmith [00:02:50] That's right. Well, anyway, we're going to get back to Ted in just a second. We're going take a quick break before that. And we're back. We're back sitting here with Ted Mitchell, our president.

Ted Mitchell [00:03:08] Hi, Lorelle.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:03:09] Happy to have you.

Ted Mitchell [00:03:10] I'm happy to be here.

Jon Fansmith [00:03:11] You're not...You're not gonna say hi to me?

Ted Mitchell [00:03:12] Hello, Jon.

Jon Fansmith [00:03:13] Thank you, Ted. I'm sitting right here, too. So...

Ted Mitchell [00:03:16] How's the podcast going, Jon?

Jon Fansmith [00:03:19] Well, it was going well. And now, I called out my boss on the podcast, so now I'm maybe not doing quite as well as I thought.

Ted Mitchell [00:03:27] We'll talk about that later, Jon.

Jon Fansmith [00:03:31] Doing worse and worse by the second.

Ted Mitchell [00:03:32] It is performance review season here at ACE.

Jon Fansmith [00:03:35] So if any of our listeners have any openings...Well, thank you, first of all, for joining us today, Ted. I think, you know, we were preparing for this podcast.

Jon Fansmith [00:03:48] And one of the things that's sort of daunting about having you on as a guest, aside from obviously the performance review issue as you've already identified, is that there's really a million different directions we could take this conversation. And I think as we're sort of thinking about what to talk to you about, one of the things that sort of rose to prominence in my head at least was you had recently been at an ACE regional summit in Kansas City. You had had a session at that summit. And I think, you know, it ties in a lot of the things that we do across ACE as an organization, a lot of the things that are on our members minds right now. And so I thought, you know, first I'd just sort of ask you to tell us a little bit about what that session was and then maybe we can get into some of the broader themes that it ties together.

Ted Mitchell [00:04:30] Great. Happy to do that, Jon, and really happy to be on with you guys. This is a great opportunity for me. You know, the regional summit, it was a great gathering. There were about 80 higher education leaders from institutions in the Midwest and a couple who flew in from the West Coast for the event. And the theme is one that we have been working on at ACE for a while now, which is to understand and address the negative narrative that too many of our institutions are encountering locally and certainly nationally that we're reading about in the press. So roughly and we were talking about reclaiming the high ground, which I think is important both as a messaging element, but it's also important for us to understand the ways in which we're not serving our students well.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:05:20] Yeah, yeah. There's some truth behind some of the narrative.

Ted Mitchell [00:05:25] Exactly. Exactly. Yeah, for those who are parents who have kids living in their basement, you know that that at least is partly true, that college graduates will live in their parents basement. I'm refurbishing the basement and it's...

Jon Fansmith [00:05:40] Really expanding out, making more. You're trying to lure your children to come back.

Ted Mitchell [00:05:45] That's right. Right.

Jon Fansmith [00:05:46] So it's sort of the opposite of the normal approach, actually. Well, and that's an interesting point, because obviously, you know, this idea of children coming back to live in their parents basement is kind of the maybe the antithesis of success in terms of how people view the outcome of a college education. And your session was actually on student success as the institutional epicenter. Can you go a little bit deeper into sort of the framing of that and what that meant, and particularly maybe some of the insights you gleaned from talking from talking with higher education leaders at that session?

Ted Mitchell [00:06:18] Yeah, it conversations that we've had with members around the country, one of the recurring themes is this theme of student success. How can we really focus on making sure that our students, once they're a part of our community, are successful while they're there? That has a lot to do with inclusion and engagement. And how can they be successful crossing that stage, getting the diploma, shaking hands and moving onto the next phase, the next phase of their life? And I think there are lots of things that higher education does. And so our focus is often diverted from that core function, hence the epicenter, that core function of ensuring that students are successful. So that was the theme. That was the engagement and, man, did people dig in hard on it. I bet two days nobody left the room, working hard in small groups, coming up with values statements, coming up with concrete proposals that they were going to take back to their institutions. It was a great couple of days.

Jon Fansmith [00:07:19] And one of the things I really like about that idea of the different things colleges, universities do. I focus a lot on federal policy, obviously. In federal policy, there tends to be a really narrow focus on success as completion and workforce placement. This idea that, you know, you get through school and you get into a job and I think...talking about reclaiming the higher ground, that encompasses a lot of different aspects that go beyond simply...which are core and important aspects of a college education, but there's so much more to it than that. And I think that's part of telling the story. And I'm curious your thoughts on that?

Ted Mitchell [00:07:55] Yeah, it's true. And I think that there is a temptation to be reductionist when thinking about jobs and thinking about graduation. But it's relatively easy to prepare people for a trade and a lot of institutions do that and they do that well and that's terrific. When we talk about success in higher education more broadly, we're also talking about creative thinking, problem solving skills, the ability to communicate, particularly in an increasingly diverse workforce and population. And all of those things are a part of what success means. And it was very encouraging to hear leaders articulate those in in meaningful ways.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:08:38] That's great. Those are also the things, of course, that the business community, the private sector, workforce says that they need more of those skills you just mentioned, which are perhaps harder to measure.

Ted Mitchell [00:08:49] You talk to business leaders and they say, "I don't know what my business is going to be in 10 to 15 years. And so I need to hire people who are agile intellectually, who know how to learn, who can tackle new problems with facility.".

Jon Fansmith [00:09:05] And it's not just the technical skills you bring to the workforce. It's your ability to think broadly, to adapt to change and [inaudible]. We see a lot of times when you look at, again, the federal policy spectrum, you know, there's some occasional maligning of the liberal arts. But then when you look at workforce outcomes for people who have studied in those fields, they tend to maybe start slower in terms of earning and employment, but then they--.

Ted Mitchell [00:09:28] They sure catch up, don't they?

Jon Fansmith [00:09:29] They catch up quickly and usually have longer sustained periods of high earnings, higher employment.

Ted Mitchell [00:09:34] That's right.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:09:35] Which says something--as a researcher--speaks to me about how we measure these outcomes and measure success and what timeframe within which we do so, because we do get pretty reductionist with some of the data that's used for accountability.

Ted Mitchell [00:09:49] And you take something that is an incredible measure, salary three years after graduating, Jon, to your point, at that point you're going to undervalue a history major, and you'll likely overvalue an engineer. Yeah, but over time, those even out.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:10:07] Yeah. Well, speaking of evolving to a changing landscape, institutions themselves are also evolving the way that they do work given their student population. So, you know, this is something we talk about a lot at ACE in terms of not just our members and who they serve, but some of the research we do, some of our own programs and services that are really directed towards adult learners, we call them post-traditional students, often students that are balancing work, family and school. And I know you had a whole conversation about that on a previous podcast with Jon Turk, who studies those students partly. But then the race and ethnicity question here in terms of our research in that area, showing just dramatic growth of the Hispanic population, dramatic growth of Hispanic serving institutions, but still, despite growth and we've seen lots of really positive indicators in terms of access and completion, we're still seeing a great deal of gaps in terms of the equity gaps that we get back to, you know, among students. And just wanted to hear thoughts on that change in higher education and then the responsiveness that we need to have to that change.

Ted Mitchell [00:11:19] And I think that the summit was very educational for me. And so first, Lorelle, congratulations on the race and ethnicity report. I think it's really changed the discussion in really important ways, including at the summit. I think that there was a very clear recognition that today's and tomorrow's students aren't yesterday's students and that if institutions really want to focus on student success, they need to change really the way that they think about it. And they need to not think about fitting students into the institution, but thinking about fitting an institution to students' needs. And that was the major breakthrough at the conference. I think that that's been a major breakthrough among our members and certainly how our professional development work is hoping to reorient leaders because students have many more claims on their lives. And that's even true of the minority of students who are for four-year residential students. And so we need to recognize that.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:12:27] Yeah. Changing landscape in a number of ways.

Ted Mitchell [00:12:30] That's right.

Jon Fansmith [00:12:30] And I think in terms of reflecting that, you mentioned there is this realization at the regional summit, you know, I think intuitively people understand this idea about changing the focus of the institution to focus on the student success rather than asking students to succeed within their framework. What are some of the ways, whether they're identified in some of your conversations with their presidents, that institutions can actually put that into practice? What does that look like on a campus or what are ideas that are generated to do that, to achieve that?

Ted Mitchell [00:13:00] Yeah, I think...So one of the things that is making that work more possible is the ability for students to engage with institutions through the lens of of their own experience. And so students can track their work. Institutions can help track students through challenging programs. And the use of data has become a really important way for institutions to customize, if you will, the education of their students. It's certainly no news to any listeners of the podcast that, for example, student mental health is a tremendous issue. And so being more conscious of students' mental health as well as the other aspects of their lives is a critical element. A couple quick examples: Arizona State has created its E-advisor program that really does try to use data in these new ways. I think that there are institutions all around the country that, whether they're working in partnership or alone, are trying to move the needle.

Jon Fansmith [00:14:10] And we actually had an episode with Lindsey Wayt from NACUBO of prior episode of the podcast. And she identified some other examples, which I personally found very fascinating, you know, across the idea of something as simple and I shouldn't be blanking on the institution, I think it was Rutgers, as a New Jersey institution where one of the things they looked at is how much time students spent traveling to and between campus. And that's not something you traditionally think about as an institution's area of focus. But by looking at that, they're able to reframe. How do we structure our classes? What classes do we offer? Where do we offer them? When do we offer them? And they found that students who might have had challenges in terms of getting to class simply, you know, very basic function of education were able to enter, persist, had an easier time of pursuing their courses. And so it's a really fascinating way that...another example of where these are being put in the place.

Ted Mitchell [00:15:03] You know, and I'll give you another example, Dallas community colleges, which was a multi-campus setting, by tracking students who were taking courses on multiple campuses and seeing the time lost moving from campus to campus to go through an academic pathway. Why don't we just line those up on a single campus so that students who are so demonstrably interested in this pathway can literally walk that pathway on a single campus rather than having to get in their car and commute.

Jon Fansmith [00:15:36] And having sat in Dallas traffic [crosstalk]...that's not a minimal reduction [crosstalk].

Ted Mitchell [00:15:44] There is that. You know, the other thing is that I think as we look at the REHE data and really take the issue of race seriously as we must. I think that many institutions are acknowledging that diversity and inclusion aren't just buzzwords. They're not just nice things to think about, but they really require investment. And that student success is...student success moves forward with those investments. Northwestern University is a interesting case study. They've worked since about 2010 to diversify their curriculum to really think about what inclusion means on a campus activity level, to put in place support staff who can help students of color navigate what is a very different experience for many of them. And I think that we just can't let it be true that equity is the same thing as equality. We need to understand that people come with different experiences and we need to build our institutions around those different experiences.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:16:57] Yeah, I like that theme that we're touching on here, which is the institution is changing around the student and not the other way around. And that's not easy to do, right? I mean, I know this is transformational change as we talk about it here. You know, when we look at some of the work we've been doing recently, we've put out a paper with Adrianna Kezar, who authored this piece, and we co-branded it with her. And I wrote the foreword. It's creating a diverse student success infrastructure. And really, she talks about all of the parts of the campus that have to change to meet the needs of this student of today and tomorrow. And it's not any more, and maybe it never was, sort of tinkering on the margins, you know, creating support services here and there. It's really changing the way the campus operates, which is no small feat for higher education.

Ted Mitchell [00:17:50] No, it's no small feat. And I think important or relevant in what you're saying is that it also requires those segments of the institution to work together in ways that they don't typically. Typically you have departments and they don't talk to each other. And you have academic departments and student services and they don't talk to each other. And then you add the registrar. And so in the conceptualization of this panel at the summit, at the regional summit, was precisely that. If we really put the student at the center and have these different units all factoring into the student's life, then the student is the unit of analysis, not the department, not the function. You might be able to make some of those changes in a more rapid fashion.

Jon Fansmith [00:18:35] And that's an exciting thing from the ACE perspective obviously because we work with institutional leaders. And these are the people who not just have the ability, but the responsibility to pull together all those elements, to direct the organization, to move them in these directions.

Ted Mitchell [00:18:50] Yeah, I think that's right. And I think what we need to make sure we're helping our institutions do is to ask the question, Where are we falling short? What populations of students need our help more? What majors? What programs are more challenging and have a lower rate of completion? And so doing a student success audit, I think is the number one starting point for these institutions. We talk a lot about campus climate surveys and many other ways in which we try to reach into the student experience, but understanding which groups of our students are succeeding, which need more help, how they need that help, and then how to provide it is really the roadmap for institutional change.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:19:38] Yeah, and that goes back to the measurement, how you measure that, the data component, the data-enabling decision making, which also I mean, just to say, of course, doing that work, doing the data work has its own inherent biases. And you know, if you go into it thinking again that the student is the problem to fix. Or you go into it thinking or perhaps coming out of some of the analysis that some students are doing worse than others. And you sort of paint a certain type of picture...

Ted Mitchell [00:20:09] A negative picture.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:20:11] Kind of like the deficit frame. We have to be really careful about that. The institutions that are doing a good job with data and closing equity gaps are not falling into that trap. It requires...

Ted Mitchell [00:20:21] No, that's right. That's right.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:20:23] A certain level of awareness.

Jon Fansmith [00:20:25] And taking that a step further, understanding that student success is institutional success. So it's not about differentiating which students aren't succeeding. It's, how do we get all..

Ted Mitchell [00:20:37] How do we get all of our students to succeed?

Jon Fansmith [00:20:38] That's right.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:20:39] That's like a great slogan. Student success is institutional success. Free of charge, we'll just put that out there.

Ted Mitchell [00:20:46] Bumper stickers.

Jon Fansmith [00:20:46] Hopefully our marketing department's listening to this and then maybe I can get a commission or something. I'm just saying.

Ted Mitchell [00:20:51] I think that's good.

Jon Fansmith [00:20:52] You know, I'm always hustling here. Are there resources, things that in this area ACE is...You mentioned the idea of a student success audit. Obviously, some of this is coming together as we're talking about it. Are there things we have coming up that might help our members in looking at these?

Ted Mitchell [00:21:11] Well, certainly our annual meeting will focus on student success. And so that will be in San Diego this coming March.

Jon Fansmith [00:21:19] Hawaiian shirts, Hawaiian tie.

Ted Mitchell [00:21:22] Hawaiian shirts and flip flops will be the...

Jon Fansmith [00:21:24] I can wear a tie, though, [crosstalk].

Ted Mitchell [00:21:26] You can wear. And, in fact, if you could match it with the same pattern.

Jon Fansmith [00:21:31] You've giving me a head start on my shopping.

Ted Mitchell [00:21:32] That'd be quite slick. Quite slick. I don't know what you're going to do with the flip flops, though, Jon.

Jon Fansmith [00:21:37] Yeah. I don't know of any.

Ted Mitchell [00:21:38] We'll work on...Oh, you don't?

Lorelle Espinosa [00:21:41] You don't own flip flops?

Jon Fansmith [00:21:42] I find this surprising that you're both surprised by this. How many years did you live in L.A., Lorelle?

Lorelle Espinosa [00:21:48] Oh, yeah. Enough to have like 10 pairs.

Jon Fansmith [00:21:51] I'm a northeast guy. So, they're not functional footwear.

Ted Mitchell [00:21:55] We know what is coming in your holiday package.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:21:58] Now we know, Secret Santa.

Ted Mitchell [00:21:59] That's it.

Jon Fansmith [00:22:00] Won't be a secret, guys.

Ted Mitchell [00:22:01] That's it. So certainly the annual meeting and look forward to seeing you all on the beach. We will continue to do regional summits. Our Engage platform,.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:22:14] ACE Engage.

Ted Mitchell [00:22:14] ...Is loading up on student success. Both micro-courses and a library of resources that institutions can use. And, you know, a number of things that Lorelle and her team are working on.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:22:31] Yeah, I might mention the learner success lab that is underway with the generous support of Strada Education Network. So we're in a planning year. Think we put a press release out about that a little while ago. This is based on a really successful model that we have going with our internationalization lab, which is a cohort-based model where institutions come together, teams of people from those institutions and learn alongside one another, strategize. We have advisers that work with these institutions to help them put together the right strategic plan around internationalization--global engagement in that case. And so in this next case, it'll be around student success. And so that means, like internationalization, different things to different institutions, but they'll be on this journey for 18 months.

Ted Mitchell [00:23:20] And what's great about that is that it's not a one shot thing. It really is...

Lorelle Espinosa [00:23:25] It's customized.

Ted Mitchell [00:23:25] It's customized. It is institution driven. And then we're able to provide the supports and the expertise along the way. We had a lot of interest at the regional summit in the student success lab as well as the internationalization lab.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:23:40] Yeah, it's a great model. It's work working really well.

Jon Fansmith [00:23:43] Well, and people listen to this and our members as well should keep an eye out for all those things.

Ted Mitchell [00:23:47] That's right.

Jon Fansmith [00:23:49] Ted, I want to recognize your time.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:23:51] He's a busy man.

Jon Fansmith [00:23:53] He's a very busy man. It's...a frighteningly busy man. Appreciate you being here, obviously. Before we go, are there other last thoughts you want to offer, things you want people listening to be aware of?

Ted Mitchell [00:24:06] So, first of all, I want to thank Jon. Thank you and thank Lorelle for having me today. This is the highlight of my day.

Jon Fansmith [00:24:12] That's so sad. Deeply depressing to me.

Ted Mitchell [00:24:15] It's very encouraging to me. I'll leave here with a bounce in my step that'll take me all the way to my first e-mail. So thanks again for having me. I do want to suggest that I think that this transition that we're making as a field from having institutional success metrics that are somehow independent of our students. It's a really's a shift that's long needed to put students really at the center of of all of our work. And then the last thing, the shameless plug is for those who are listening, who have not joined the ACE Engage platform, please, please do that. It is very exciting. We, the three of us, had a little bit of a snapshot of it earlier.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:25:06] It's really coming together nicely.

Ted Mitchell [00:25:09] Very exciting.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:25:10] You can go to our website, and just look around there. You'll see it. It's prominent. If you don't see it, Google it, ACE Engage.

Ted Mitchell [00:25:19] And if not, just call John Fansmith directly.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:25:21] Or just call Jon. 

Jon Fansmith [00:25:23] I just learned I'm going to be on a webinar on the Engage platform next month. So for those of you who love listening to my voice, you get the full package.

Ted Mitchell [00:25:31] Excellent. Excellent. Well, that performance review is gonna be just fine, Jon. Thank you all.

Jon Fansmith [00:25:39] Thank you, Ted. And thank you in advance for those flip flops I'm expecting. So...

Ted Mitchell [00:25:42] On the way. Bye.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:25:43] Bye, Ted.

Jon Fansmith [00:25:44] Lorelle and I will be back after a break for discussion of all the interesting things happening here in D.C., many of which are more scandalous than interesting, but still interesting nonetheless. We'll be right back.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:26:00] So that was fun.

Jon Fansmith [00:26:01] It was fun.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:26:03] Fun discussion with Ted.

Jon Fansmith [00:26:04] He seems to like you a lot better than he likes me.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:26:06] Yeah.

Jon Fansmith [00:26:06] I just want to put that on the record.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:26:07] I'm likable, though, you know.

Jon Fansmith [00:26:09] I mean, I know you. So that can split both ways.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:26:14] Well, anyway, it's exciting, the conversation we had because we've got a lot of stuff rolling out on that set of issues. I mean, the summits, Engage. We talked a lot about these transformation labs. We have some great publications, too, that are coming down the pike. A couple that were just released, one on preparing the workforce. And today's community colleges takes a look at apprenticeships and the applied science articulation credit for prior learning. I mean, that's a huge sector that honestly a lot of campuses should be looking at in terms of learning. You know, because that's a sector that's been serving diverse students for a very long time. But we also have a great paper out on the intersection between campus climate and STEM disciplinary climate. So that gets to the student experience piece and you know, again, changing norms in spaces where they need change.

Jon Fansmith [00:27:08] And especially students of color often underrepresented in STEM programs.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:27:12] Exactly. Yeah. Yeah, especially certain STEM programs. So good resources. If you go to our web page again, go to our Web site, you can look at the publications link and find all that good stuff.

Jon Fansmith [00:27:26] That's right. And our public affairs folks will probably be pushing them out to you as well too, so check your inbox.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:27:31] Check your inbox. So anyway, back to this to the scandalous and interesting things happening in this town. There's no shortage.

Jon Fansmith [00:27:38] I didn't want to oversell it as a teaser.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:27:42] So tell us a little bit more about...You led off talking about HEA, the Higher Education Act and some activity in the House and some disappointment in the Senate...on the Senate side.

Jon Fansmith [00:27:56] Sure. Yeah. And talked a little bit about appropriations earlier, the funding of the government. I think the other...The really big thing, the thing frankly I've spent an enormous amount of time on and mostly focus on was the Bobby Scott, chairman of the House Education Labor Committee, introduced and then passed through committee last week a comprehensive HEA, Higher Education Act, reauthorization bill called the College Affordability Act. I think we've had some discussion on the podcast about that before. It's a massive bill.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:28:27] 1,200 pages.

Jon Fansmith [00:28:28] Over twelve hundred pages before the amendments get added to it. It's a big deal. ACE has a very short and concise summary at around 81 pages posted up on our website.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:28:37] There's also a five pager which I read.

Jon Fansmith [00:28:40] There is a five pager.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:28:40] I don't read all of the 81, but...

Jon Fansmith [00:28:42] You should read the 81. As somebody who feels very passionately about the production of that document. I do know it's golden prose.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:28:51] I give you guys a lot of credit. That is...And you did that fast. You turned that around quickly.

Jon Fansmith [00:28:55] And we did turn that around quickly, not as quickly as some people would have liked us to, but certainly more quickly than we thought possible.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:29:00] Yeah. Well, congratulations. And just to say, the five pager was also really well done.

Jon Fansmith [00:29:07] Well, thank you.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:29:07] Covered the bases.

Jon Fansmith [00:29:10] You know, and I think that's hugely important. And, as we mentioned, there's resources up on our web page and encourage people listening if they're interested to go and check those out as well as, you know, community letters we've sent on the bill and things like that. The other thing I think may be a little bit below the radar that has been interesting to me recently is some things involving the Department of Education, particularly around the issue of borrowers, student borrowers, who are now in repayment. It has...

Lorelle Espinosa [00:29:35] We've also talked about them on this podcast.

Jon Fansmith [00:29:37] We have right in...

Lorelle Espinosa [00:29:38] And the missteps.

Jon Fansmith [00:29:39] And there's been a lot of, I think, missteps, some of which I think you can lay at the feet of the department, some of which they inherited. But it's been a particularly bad couple weeks for the department.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:29:50] Oh, how's that?

Jon Fansmith [00:29:51] Well, I think the most prominent one, the one that people have heard the most about is the fact that the department, and Betsy Devos individually, was found in contempt of court by a court. There are a number of people who essentially have said, "I was defrauded by my institution," in this case Corinthian Colleges when it collapsed, and they filed a process which is called a borrower defense to repayment or essentially to say, "I was defrauded. The government should wipe my loan debts away." For various reasons, there have been different interpretations of how that should be handled. The department, though, was ordered by the court to stop collecting payments from the people who are in that process. They did not. And the servicers working on behalf of the department continue to do that, in some cases, garnishing Social Security payments or other forms of payments made to borrowers. The judge essentially found in favor of the borrowers and said, "The department has violated this. You've been told. You continue to do it." They fined Betsey Devos $100,000 in her role at the department. The other thing that's kind of popped up that's related to this, which is an interesting sort of side story in the education world, is that there is a man named Steven Menashi who has been appointed for a federal appeals court judgeship?

Lorelle Espinosa [00:31:09] Judgeship.

Jon Fansmith [00:31:09] Judgeship, is that right? I don't know that much about the judiciary, right.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:31:14] I don't know the term, but we know you mean.

Jon Fansmith [00:31:16] Right. And as part of his confirmation hearing in the Senate, one of the things that came up, he had actually been the acting general counsel at the Department of Education prior to his appointment, and one of the things came up is that he had authored a memo saying that the department had the legal right to use these people who've come forward and said, "I'd been defrauded and wanted a borrower defense repayment claim" to use data that had been submitted on the gainful employment program, a little long to go into here, but essentially use their Social Security data as an argument that they had suffered no economic harm. That is contrary to law. And another judge had ruled that was contrary to law. It came up in his confirmation hearing. He passed out of the committee by party lines this morning as we record this and will go to the full Senate for a formal vote. But a lot of people are making the point, this calls into question his ability to accurately render legal opinions when he gave the department authority to something that clearly contravened law.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:32:21] Yeah, clearly.

Jon Fansmith [00:32:22] So, again, bad week for the department. Both in terms of directly for themselves and then also for former employees of the department. It continues this pattern we've seen of really problematic interactions with borrowers. And what borrower's protections are under law. So moving forward, obviously something to keep track of.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:32:43] Yeah. And I know you will be.

Jon Fansmith [00:32:44] We will be. We'll be paying close attention. So I think that about wraps it up for us for today. You can find more about this episode, some of the resources we mentioned, links to other things on our Web site at As always, you can subscribe to this podcast on Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. And finally, you can e-mail us directly at to give us feedback, suggestions, ideas for future episodes.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:33:19] Flip flop styles.

Jon Fansmith [00:33:20] Flip flop styles. I guess we have to solicit those. You know, Hawaiian shirt designs for the annual meeting.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:33:26] And ties. Yeah.

Jon Fansmith [00:33:28] Tasteful, tasteful conservative flip flop and Hawaiian shirt designs.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:33:32] And we really do, just to put a finer point on it, welcome feedback on topics...

Jon Fansmith [00:33:38] We do.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:33:39] For the podcast and anything else on your mind. So please write us.

Jon Fansmith [00:33:43] We want to hear from you. Thanks everyone for listening. ​​

About the Podcast

​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major issue impacting college campuses and students across the country. Hosts from ACE are joined by guest experts to lead you through thought-provoking conversations on topics such as campus free speech, diversity in admissions, college costs and affordability, and more. Find all episodes of the podcast a​​t the dotEDU page​.

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