Episode 38: What's Next for Federal Student Aid?


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired March 12, 2021

Julie Peller, executive director of Higher Learning Advocates, visits the podcast to talk about the financial aid policies and programs that might be proposed by Congress in the coming months, including doubling the maximum Pell Grant award and free college, and what this means in particular to post-traditional learners. Peller and the hosts also discuss what students need post-pandemic, like a permanent solution for funding for programs beyond tuition and textbooks, and how institutions can be more accommodating  and creative about support programs.

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

Higher Learning Advocates

American Rescue Plan Act of 2021: Simulated Distribution of Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds

ACE2021, ACE’S Annual Meeting (March 24-26)

Student Loan Forgiveness May Become Tax-Free Under Covid Relief Bill. Here’s What That Means for Borrowers
CNBC | March 8, 2021

Biden Will Revisit Trump Rules on Campus Sexual Assault
The New York Times (sub. req.) | March 8, 2021

Congress Moves to Reauthorize Violence Against Women Act
CNN | March 9, 2021

How We Can Double the Pell Grant
Medium | March 8, 2021

Analysis of U.S. Experiment on Short-Term Pell
Inside Higher Ed | Dec. 16, 2020

The Case for Quantum LEAP
New America | Jan. 28, 2021

Hosts and Guests

 Read this episode's transcript

Jon Fansmith: Hello and welcome to dotEDU, the higher education policy podcast from the American Council on Education. We'll be joined shortly by Julie Peller, Executive Director of Higher Learning Advocates who is a deeply informed and deeply experienced person to talk about federal policy, as well as frankly, just being a fun person to talk to about federal higher education policy. But before we get to Julie, I am joined as always by my cohost Mushtaq Gunja and Sarah Spreitzer. How are you both doing today?

Sarah Spreitzer: Awesome.

Mushtaq Gunja: Doing great. Hi Sarah, hi Jon, how are you?

Jon Fansmith: Sarah? You want to take this one?

Sarah Spreitzer: A little tired. Although not as tired as probably the Senate staff after this weekend of working on reconciliation all the way through Saturday. But yeah.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, it's not just an arcane process. It's apparently a brutal process. So both the House and the Senate have been beating themselves up getting this done.

Mushtaq Gunja: Jon, is vote-a-rama one word or is it vote-a-rama?

Jon Fansmith: I have seen so many different versions. One word where it is vote-a-rama where like voter, rama. Vote-o-rama is my preferred favorite. It seems more carnivaly and fun and Congress can obviously always use more of a carnival atmosphere than they already have. But yeah, I don't know that there's an Oxford English dictionary resolution on this one.

Mushtaq Gunja: Maybe it will be the word of the year.

Sarah Spreitzer: Does anybody know if there were more amendments for this one than the previous reconciliation?

Jon Fansmith: I do not know. Maybe that's something I should know. I have to say like many, many journalists and frankly Congressional staff I dropped in and out of that whole process.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. I think that there were a good 700 amendments and a lot of them that weren't even considered. So I think about that all the time and effort that goes into writing up an amendment and then it's not even considered. There were actually-

Jon Fansmith: Did you see some of those amendments? I'm not sure it took a whole lot of time and effort to write them up. There were a couple that were adopted though. One was new and one was a tweak to what the House had put over, which was the 90-10 rule change instead of an immediate implementation of that role. They bought proprietary institutions a little bit more time to come into compliance. And so the rule won't take effect until 2023. For people who don't know this rule, the 90-10 rule essentially says that for for-profit institutions only, not for nonprofits, no more than 90% of your revenue can come from the federal government. The idea of being you have to offer a program with sufficient value to encourage students to put their own money in on it. And there was this, what we've always called the loophole that money from particularly the Veterans Administration for Veterans Educational Benefits, and from the Department of Defense for military education benefits was not counted as federal funds for reasons that surpass understanding, but have always been in place. And so the reconciliation bill actually included language that would say, "Count all federal funds as federal funds on the 90% side of the ledger." That passed the House without issue. In the Senate, there was some pushback and ultimately it won't go into effect until 2023. And I think more importantly for my personal workload they also dictated that there will have to be a negotiated rulemaking on this in October. So-

Sarah Spreitzer: You want us to nominate you Jon, should we send that letter right now? To get ahead of the pack that will want to serve on that panel.

Jon Fansmith: I have always admired Terry's deft management of his role as a negotiated rule maker. So I would strongly encourage you to put him forward for that. But the other one that-

Mushtaq Gunja: I've sat in on negotiated rule making sessions, Jon, and I think you would rather be a negotiator than sitting in the audience watching, which I have definitely done. So Jon, if you're planning on just watching anyway, I would just go ahead and try to find a negotiator yourself.

Jon Fansmith: At least you get to talk. Yeah, that's a fair point. The other main role change was totally new to the Senate and it's interesting. The Senate included language that is essentially set for the next five years. Any student loan forgiveness, whether that's through a unilateral forgiveness of student loans offered by the federal government or public service loan forgiveness, forgiveness, or forgiveness because you have met the terms of your income-based repayment plan in terms of forgiveness, all of that will be non-taxable. And I think make sense for lots of reasons in terms of that's... we've always thought that you shouldn't tax a benefit like that that's particularly done to reflect struggles low-income borrowers might have repaying the full balance of their loans. But I like it because it's like the latest served by Congress back to the Biden administration in this game of tennis over who's responsible for student loan forgiveness. They've gone back and forth where Congress is adamant, Democrats in Congress, I should say, are adamant the president can simply use his pen to wipe out any and all student loan debt whereas the administration has said, "They're studying this with great fervor and intensity," but they don't think they have that authority. They need Congress to act. And so, still to be seen what that might mean for an actual forgiveness proposal or whether we'll see that in another reconciliation bill or down the road. But I do like that Congress has essentially said, "Well, haha, we've now taken away one of your justifications for not doing this, back to you Biden." So we'll see how that goes, but for now it's a fun process.

Sarah Spreitzer: But that has been something we've been asking for, for a while. I mean, since I think public service loan forgiveness was established, I mean, that's always been a concern that the borrowers would be taxed on that benefit. And so it's great that they got that included. And then John, do you think both those amendments will be accepted by the house?

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. I think that as we do this now, as we record this podcast, the House is set to vote. They're going to take up what the Senate passes in amendment to their bill and pass it forward. The Senate has the guiding hand here because it's so much harder to get the bill through the Senate than it is through the House under the various rules. If the House was to start making changes back to what they would prefer, it will have to go back to the Senate again, and the big thing is Sunday this March 14th. That's the huge date looming over this whole process. That's when the unemployment insurance extensions run out, nobody on the Democratic side wants to see this bill delayed and have an interruption on those benefits, especially because it's just systems wise. State unemployment insurance systems are unwieldy machines and if you turn it off for a day, it's not quite so easy to just flip it back on. So yeah, I think it's going to pass the House vote scheduled for Wednesday, which would be tomorrow as we record this and few days past as you listen to it, and I think what we'll see is that it all will have been signed into law at that point.

Mushtaq Gunja: I can't imagine trying to open this back up to see what next thing Manchin might want to do. I mean, now that they've gotten the 50 votes, I imagine the House is just going to end up passing, I would think. Hey Sarah, this week we celebrate international women's day and it looks like the Biden administration put forth a series of actions related to women that will affect our industry in higher ed. You want to tell us about this?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, they did a lot. Just yesterday the President established a new gender focused white house policy council, that's going to look at domestic and foreign policy and then, we'll also be looking at some of the issues surrounding COVID and the fact that we've seen so many women leave the workforce. I know that's something we've been following within the academic workforce and I know there's been lots of studies about how COVID has impacted female academics and female scientists and researchers much more than their male counterparts for a lot of different reasons. And then, for us, one of the things that was really important is there was an executive order signed that calls on the new Secretary of Education re-examine or review the Title IX rules, which were finalized during the Trump administration. And a lot of folks are messaging that this is the start of unwinding those final rules. It's harder to unwind them because they were finalized. And so they're going to have to go through rulemaking to create a new rule to replace it. And so it's going to take a while, but I think that this is the first step. And then I think important to President Biden, the house reintroduced or introduced the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act which has been updated since its original introduction every couple of years. And President Biden was one of the original authors and sponsors of that bill in the Senate and so that's a big priority for the White House and I think they're hoping to get bipartisan support on that.

Jon Fansmith: Well, we will obviously keep tracking that as it moves forward. I think the thing to keep in mind here is this is the first in what will be many steps over the longer term. I know, obviously, this is one of those issues that campuses care greatly about and when the Title IX rule went into effect, the comment period, I think there were over 125,000 comments the most by far ever on the Department rule. So we will keep you posted on that. Speaking of keeping people posted I was remiss in that not mentioning earlier, that as you are listening to this, we believe the reconciliation bill will have passed. One tool for you, the bill includes about $40 billion for higher education institutions and students. ACE through our Maven of data and departmental knowledge, Dan Madzelan, has worked out what the allocations will be for every institution. So you can look at that as a resource and find out what your institution is set to receive from the federal government as part of this relief. And that will be available on ACE's website and will include a link to it on the podcast site as well. Speaking of things we're doing at ACE, Mushtaq, I have a vague recollection there's some meeting coming up that you might want to mention.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah. And actually this last conversation is a perfect segue to that. So our ACE's big annual meeting done in virtual format this year is coming up in just a few days from when you hear this, March 22nd to March 24th. And I promise that if you like this podcast and if you're listening, I hope that you do and you're not somehow forced to by your employer. I guarantee you, you're going to like our annual meeting. We have tons of sessions that are going to be about public policy related issues including a session on Title IX. I'm sure that this question about the allocation of these recovery funds will come up. We've got sessions on international students. We have a plenary session with Michael Steele and Kirsten Powers, CNN commentator, MSNBC commentator, Michael Steele of course was the former head of the RNC. They're gonna be talking politics and talking about what the 2020 election meant for higher education, what we should be looking forward to in 2022, it's going to be great. You're going to love it. And it's all virtual, so you can do it in your pajamas. You don't even have to come and dress up, but at least you can probably wear pajamas on the bottom. You might want to wear a shirt of some sort or a blouse of some sort on top. But it's going to be great. We'll drop a link to the registration page and the schedule and all in the show notes.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, and I just want to emphasize. Even if you don't like this podcast, you'll still probably find the ACE annual meeting valuable and enjoyable. So it's not just for those of you who like this. Because I realized that might be a large segment of our listener base. We are going to take a brief break and be back with our guests, Julie Peller, right after that.

Mushtaq Gunja: And welcome back. We are joined today by our very special guest, Julie Peller. Julie Peller is the Executive Director of Higher Learning Advocates and one of the leading voices and experts in the country on higher education policy. She, Julie, has done it all. Julie's working in the executive branch as a Presidential Management Fellow at the Department of Ed. She's worked on The Hill, senior policy advisor and deputy staff director for the House Committee on Education and Labor. She has significant foundation experience. She was Lumina Foundation's first Director of federal policy and Julia, you now run Higher Learning Advocates, just an extraordinary career. And if I remember correctly, Julie, you're also one of those higher ed policy wonks that spends a lot of time baking. Is that right?

Julie Peller: That's right. That's how I de-stress from all the higher education policy thinking.

Mushtaq Gunja: So what is the last thing that you baked? And was it this week?

Julie Peller: So it wasn't this week, but I recently made a carrot cake, which felt like bringing in spring.

Mushtaq Gunja: Oh, that's great. I'm on dessert duty this week. So I was looking for something to bake. Maybe I'll do carrot cake. If I do, I will send you a picture. Julie, for our audience who doesn't know Higher Learning Advocates, would you tell us a little bit about your organization?

Julie Peller: Sure. Higher Learning Advocates. We work to change federal policy, to update our laws or regulations, help policy makers think about who today's students are. We know they're older, they're more likely to be working they're more likely to be parents themselves. First-Generation students, students of color. All populations that aren't very well represented in a set of laws and regulations that were really not changed dramatically from 1965. So we work to change that and help ensure their success.

Mushtaq Gunja: And I assume that you've been following all of the goings-on, on The Hill over the course of the last couple of months. Have you and your organization been involved in trying to shape some of that policy?

Julie Peller: Absolutely. I've been so pleasantly encouraged by the changing conversation once COVID hit Congress and much like the rest of the country, we all then jumped to respond. I think a big, bright spot of that is taking out of the shadows the needs of students that go beyond what I call tuition and textbooks. We've been working hard to ensure that students have access to emergency aid, to ensure that they have access to broadband support, that the varied needs of student parents in particular are represented in conversations. And we have been really pleasantly surprised how Congress has responded to that.

Sarah Spreitzer: And Julie, obviously we have a new administration that's very vocal about wanting to help students in higher education and not just what we think of as traditional students, but that population that you were just talking about that really do make up our post-secondary enrollment. One of the things that we've been really focused on, going into this year and looking forward towards the next reconciliation bill and the appropriations season is doubling Pell. And part of that is because the whole conversation going on about free college, which I think started during the campaign season, as Higher Learning Advocates, have you guys engaged on those conversations?

Julie Peller: So we have a bit, I think doubling Pell, I completely agree, that that is a really big win for today's students. The amount of, again, tuition and everything that goes into cost of attendance for a boarding schools has just outpaced the increases that we've done at the federal level in the Pell Grant program. I am mindful, frankly, on both double Pell and free college, that it's done in a way that's sustainable first of all, that doesn't create a false cliff in a couple of years. We've been through that before where we at the federal level, put a large increase into Pell Grants for a short period of time and had to scramble to be sure that students weren't left high and dry a few years later. So I really hope that Congress does double Pell and that they do so in a sustainable way, and that they do so in a way that works for all of today's students. And this goes for both double Pell and gets into the free college conversation as well, then we recognize who that population is and don't create policies that just really go back to the traditional picture of who are today's students, who a student is and going from high school to college or needing to be enrolled full time, or some of those complications that need to be put on policies. I really hope that Congress doesn't  go there.

Sarah Spreitzer: Okay. And do you see short-term Pell being part of that conversation, like looking at a Pell for the next generation post COVID?

Julie Peller: I think so. I think short-term Pell with appropriate quality guard rails, right? That, that is anytime you open up a program like the Pell Grant to a new set of programs, that there's really critical questions to make sure that that value is there for students. As the country's looking at how we get out of this economic situation that we're in and that we really ensure that all pathways are available for students, I think it's a really important tool. These are programs where students are going now and as you all and many of your listeners know, right? Like they're not always connected with the academic side of the program. And I think short-term health could be a way to not only help the short term or near term economic needs, but help create that academic pathway as well as an economic pathway for those students.

Sarah Spreitzer: It's interesting thinking of a post COVID world, if it ever does happen. I mean, even now looking at the enrollment trends that we're seeing and some of the surprising things that usually during times of an economic crisis, you see enrollments go up, especially at community colleges and that hasn't been true during COVID. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Julie Peller: I think there's a lot of expertise out there that have been looking at the why, and I'm really concerned about and thinking through how we can change it going forward, right. It seem like we've hit the tipping point between price and just the value proposition of going back to school. It didn't seem to be there in the last year at the community college level, but how can we change that conversation? I think price has a lot to do with it, but I do also think showing that path for people to say, "This is a way to get back on track." And re-upping my conversation about those of us inside higher education know and breathe really well back to potential learners to say, "Hey, listen, you can back to short-term power." Like you can come in, get a credential and get your next job. And it's also a stepping stone to the job after that and the credential after that, if you so wish. Showing that pathway, I think, is really going to be important in the next year.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. And I think that's so interesting too, because you touched on three things. Price and pathways and then the sense that, not only is there a pathway, but it's the right pathway for you. And a lot of ways that all ties into this debate we've been having about free college. And Bernie Sanders famously launched it back in 2016, although the conversation had been going on before that. It's certainly gotten a lot of attention. President Biden had proposed it as part of his campaign. In fact, I think, most of the democratic presidential candidates had some version of free college. And so I'm curious, at HLA, have you taken a position on free college, what you want it to look like or do you just go in through the thought process around there because it's a big topic and there's a lot to chew on and I'm just curious to get your overall thoughts before we dive in.

Julie Peller: So, we are chewing on it for sure. I think that the... when done well, it's a really great program in that free does two things. It certainly addresses the affordability, but it also is a message of promise to a potential learner. To say we'll give you a credit for the exact amount of money you need is different messaging and different kind of a promise to a learner, or potential learners to say, "Hey, this is free." There's some big questions I have with it. Right at the top is making sure that it works for adult learners, making sure that it works for young, old, any learner who has had a stop in their, or an interruption in their post-secondary career. Some of the early state programs really, you couldn't stop between high school and college and we just know that's not the reality, especially right now for so many learners. Or if they drop below full time, what happens? Those kinds of questions are unlikely to be addressed with the federal level. But I do think that there need to be principles and needs to be the flexibility to ensure that that's there. And that's, that's really important to us at Higher Learning Advocates that whatever comes through work for all of the students and has a good value proposition.

Jon Fansmith: It's been really interesting looking at what the states have done, because like you said, it's this great test example of sort of unintended consequences. And there really is a divide in some ways between four year free college programs that we've seen. And then certainly two year free community college free community college, which a little bit more widespread, a little bit more data and maybe some ways a smoother program at the state level. I'm curious, we talked a little bit about doubling Pell. Doubling Pell is functionally making community college free, right? Are these two sides of the same coin? Are these two conflicting interests? If you double Pell, do you need free college? Curious to get your thoughts and kind of what the policy priorities should be in this space.

Julie Peller: I think they dovetail really well. As you said, if you double Pell at the community college level, for most of the country, you're mostly free. Where just doubling Pell and not having a free college program, you lose a little bit of that promise conversation and that's been shown to be really, really beneficial in the state programs. And so that's something to weigh. Do you need federal policy to be able to do that? Yeah, could a state have said that add a double Pell, make that community college free, create a state free college program with no additional investment for sure. But I do think that doubling Pell is to say the conversation around free college really, and at the community college level, which I think that's in, if I could bring my crystal ball to the conversation. Probably where it's going where I imagine the debate will be about how much of community college or first few years to be free. Doubling Pell will go throughout a student's undergraduate program. So, I think those two things work really well together because in the four-year program for students at private institutions they'll need assistance as well, and then it helps, it is a different way to make that investment at the two year level. So it's very possible you can do both.

Jon Fansmith: And before, I know my colleagues jumped in with other things just on this side, because, with your experience, you have such great perspective on this. But one of the challenges when we talk about a federal free college program is that most of the proposals have been the federal government meets the state halfway, right? The state commits to an increase in support, federal government matches that support or even over matches that support and that covers the tuition costs. So even setting aside the whole, which I love, tuition and books plus framework that meet intuition isn't necessarily all of the costs a student faces, certainly low-income students. The big problem we've always had in federal policy is actually getting the states to live up to that obligation and not even talking about programs where states have simply opted out, but states have found other ways around how they get that federal match. So do you think is that the hardest, system round obstacle to putting in a free federal free college program? Or is that something maybe there's a path forward on?

Julie Peller: So I do think in this economic environment, it's really hard for the states, like institutions, like many Americans are struggling and trying to make ends meet and we've seen time and time again, that higher education often falls to the wayside of state investments in these economic scenario. So I do think we need to be thoughtful about that. It has worked well, right? The LEAP program was a resounding success in this kind of state federal partnership. I think there's some critical elements that go into that. First and foremost is that the investment is large enough from the federal level to bring states to the table. We've seen also where it doesn't work well because that investment, that trade-off for a state was not wasn't the right value judgment, right? We had a maintenance of effort on a relatively small challenge grant program and states where we would have to put up more money to meet the maintenance of effort than they would have received from the program and so it was a logical choice for them. So I think those things, those lessons need to be learned and heeded when there's a future federal state partnership conversation, but there's some lessons where it's worked really well and I think LEAP is probably the best higher education example out there for that kind of partnership.

Jon Fansmith: And I'll just say, thank you for bringing up LEAP. I love LEAP. LEAP expired in 2012, I think, fiscal year 2012. When it went away, I think it was only funded at about $64 million. So we ask every year to restore LEAP. The authorization is still there, it just needs money. So anyone listening, contact somebody about funding.

Julie Peller: That's an example one program that was hurt by its own success, right? But the justification for no longer funding the program was that the states did all the things which the program was meant to do. And so I agree, especially now, there's a lot that still can be done on those fronts.

Jon Fansmith: We'll talk later about promoting LEAP. It will be you and me, but I won't be pushing it.

Mushtaq Gunja: Julie, changing subjects just a little bit, though certainly on the same theme. What do you think Congress and the public don't quite get about today's students? #todaysstudents. I know it's the real focus of Higher Learning Advocates. How does Higher Learning Advocates think about what their priorities are on The Hill over the course of the next couple of years? I mean, we're unlikely, I think from all accounts to be able to see a comprehensive Higher Education Act. What are the piecemeal bills, if any, that you'd like to see Congress take up and work on.

Julie Peller: So yeah, to answer your first question first, we've seen so much progress in Congress and in the national media and with our great partners, like you all, who have kind of changing the narrative of who today's students are. I think that there's this greater understanding like I started at the top, or they're older, they're they're working. I can spout it again. Where we still have work to do is how today's students go through higher education and higher learning. I intentionally say that broadly because for so many students it's inside and outside the system of higher education as we all think about it. I think that there's still this idea of, "Oh, a quarter of students are parents themselves." But they're still choosing courses based on what their faculty ratings might be or what the reading list might be, rather than how does it fit Pell care and work schedules. Does it allow for flexibility if a child gets sick, those kinds of things. Is there recognition for prior work experience or prior learning at a different institution? Those are really complicated pathways, that is what I hope that Congress starts thinking about and that we all start thinking about in our policy recommendations that we think about higher education, not as a one and done for today's students, that they come in, they come out, they come back in and we need to make those on-ramps and off-ramps a lot better for them. Especially right now, when so many people in the country need to get back to work or are underemployed and re-skilling and different skilling or up skilling all the skilling words need to be part of our nation's recovery conversation.

And so I agree, we're not going to see Higher Education Act reauthorization, in my guess, until 18 months from now. But I am keenly paying attention to conversations about recovery and conversations about investment in our infrastructure and those kinds of packages because training, education and skilling have critical roles to play and they have in the past and they should, especially right now. To get a little bit more specific, some things that we are particularly paying attention to are ensuring that the progress that we've made in 2020, as far as addressing students needs outside of tuition and textbooks, be a more permanent solution. So temporary solutions around emergency assistance for students around broadband access around connections with means tested programs like SNAP were all passed. And that was fantastic. And part of emergency measures. Those needs were there pre-pandemic there, they were exacerbated by the pandemic, but they're going to be there post pandemic as well and so as Congress thinks about students in the coming year, there's critical conversations like doubling Pell and affordability, but we can't stop there. We need to continue to recognize these beyond tuition needs for students as a permanent and ongoing need that they have, because that's what's stopping so many students from completing. It's not what we do in the classroom. It's often their life outside the classroom.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah. One of the things, Julie, that gives me a little bit of hope coming out of the pandemic, is I think that our institutions, probably in our faculty probably, now have a different view of what can be done in a virtual setting in terms of teaching classes and perhaps scheduling classes. I mean, one of the things that I know is so difficult for working adults is literally getting there, getting classes that they need to take on the schedules they need to take them. And I teach primarily students that have a career and they're taking classes at night and I now understand that I can do some of this stuff asynchronously then do some of it synchronously. So hopefully, we will take some of the learnings from these awful 12 months and be able to move things forward a little bit. Julie, do you have a sense that that might be happening on a broader scale or do we not quite know yet?

Julie Peller: I don't think we quite know yet, nor do I think we quite know... there was so much variation when the world suddenly went online last year. Some things were done really well and some things were done not so well. And I think that it is going to take us a little bit of time to figure out those learnings than we should. And the things that were done well should be replicated and continued. And so cutting through that is exactly, Mushtaq, your example of... you're literally in students' homes now. And I think that kind of fourth wall of a student's life outside of campus and complicated factors outside of campus has broken down a bit. The stigma of a child showing up or an employment situation happening. That institution and that faculty member, being a resource for students outside of that academic preparation to me, it's such a great win that should absolutely continue, regardless of what format classes are in going forward. Because institutions and faculty members can and should be really great resources for students in helping their success throughout their program. And those conversations, I think, so many students were afraid to have them before the pandemic.

Mushtaq Gunja: I've totally noticed that too. That so many more of my students are willing to ask for accommodations. And I found that to be just wonderful. I have cats coming across Zoom. I have children coming across Zoom, the students are eating during class and for me, that's totally fine. They're trying to do eight things at once. They don't have time to take two hours of class, then eat and then go back and do everything else they need to do. So I don't know. I have a little bit of optimism here about the way in which our institutions might have re-imagined what is possible. And maybe not just like reimagined what's possible 20 years from now, but know that we can potentially be more accommodating, meet students where they are more quickly.

Sarah Spreitzer: So, but absent a kind of a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. And I guess this question is for Julie and Jon and Mushtaq, all of you. Are there ways to encourage institutions to continue those or figure out what the best practices are that we've learned coming out of COVID that we can scale up and talk about on a national level. Like, are there ways to have that conversation, still there, outside a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act?

Julie Peller: I think so, certainly long lasting broad scale policy is supposed to happen and reauthorizations at the federal level. I say supposed to, because it so rarely does. We average 10 to 15 years between reauthorization and frankly, by the time the ink is dry on them. The policy, the national conversation has gone past whatever big policy change Congress just tried to do. And so, I think that there's, especially with the new administration in a broader way in which I am hopeful that they think about students and frankly, the last administration thought more broadly about students as well, that there's conversations between at the national level and the federal level. And those are two different things that can happen outside of legislation through convenings and through guidance, and through regulation. And there's so many tools that can happen. And I do think that a lot of these changes are happening as we speak. And in some ways, it's hard for me to say as a former authorizer and a former legislative staff. But in some ways non-legislative changes in this moment might be better. Because, like I said, we tend to take 10 to 15 years to go back and take another look at legislation. Whereas regulations, guidance, those kinds of things have a shorter cadence and right now we've got to try a number of things. We have to keep students at the center and we have to be willing to be flexible as the entire environment's changing under our feet.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. And I would just say, and this is unusual for people know me, I share Julie's optimism and I think everything she said is exactly right. And I think we've been encouraged by what faculty, like Mushtaq, and what institutions have done on their own in response. But if there are positive things on the federal level, right? Like it's not a reauthorization or bust, we've seen FAFSA simplified. We've seen the IRS data link, which will be hugely helpful for low income students just to simplify the process. All these things are tucked into different places where we're working on problems. And then I think really also encouraging particularly about today's students, we've seen in the different aid bills. There's been provisions to increase broadband access for low income students. There's provisions increasing amount of childcare support, which even if that same broadly economic recovery, it means a lot to those students. Mushtaq and I were talking about who have pulled in eight directions simultaneously. So there's lots of ways that even if the federal government can't keep up with what's going on nationally, they're at least seemingly chipping in, in different ways. And some of this is obviously tied to the pandemic. I'm really hopeful that it's opened the conversation, because open eyes to the needs for these things going forward. That this won't end when the national emergency ends. That that understanding and the importance of these wraparound services, student support services, childcare, things like that on a campus, will keep going and there'll be more attention to that. So, obviously, Julie, you and I are both optimistic. I saw some nodding heads on the Zoom from Mushtaq and Sarah. We are all optimistic, which is an uncomfortable place for me to be in. But given all these things we just identified: institutional practice, individual faculty practice in places where the federal government has gotten out of their own way and been helpful, what do you think this all means? Grab your crystal ball again, you pulled it out earlier. What does this mean for students, particularly the students that you guys are so focused on?

Julie Peller: Yeah, I think that this means a big change for students, Jon, as you were talking about the recognition of, at all levels, of who students are, and I think being seen and understanding the student needs beyond higher education, is a really hopeful message. And I'm also not usually this optimistic, but I do feel optimistic about the message, the policies we can change for today's students, as well as the message we can send to them that the struggles and the barriers in the system of higher education are struggles and barriers in the system of higher education. I think for too long, we've left it to students to say, "It's on you. If you fail, it's because you failed, not because the system wasn't set up for you, or we didn't have a workaround, or we didn't create the system for students." And now we have an opportunity to look around and say, "Let's create that system for students, and let's have students help inform those pathways, and help inform of policies," and I'm really hopeful that we can do that.

Jon Fansmith: Let's all hope that our common optimism is actually an indicator of things to come. And I know that you certainly will be working towards that and we will be too. Julie, you can probably tell, we could talk to you for the next two hours. It would be very easy and a lot of fun for us, but you have to get out there and save LEAP. So, just on behalf of my co-hosts, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. Really enjoyed the conversation.

Julie Peller: Thanks so much for having me, I really enjoyed this as well.

Jon Fansmith: To listen to earlier episodes and subscribe to dotEDU, you can find us on Apple Podcast, Stitcher, Google Podcast, and wherever you get your podcasts. For show notes and links to resources mentioned in the episode, you can go to our website at acenet.edu/podcast. And you can also use our email, podcast@acenet.edu for suggestions for upcoming shows or guests you'd like to see, or just thoughts on how we're doing. Before we go, I'd like to thank Carly O'Connell, Laurie Arnston, Audrey Hamilton, and Malcolm Moore, who are the exceptional producers of dotEDU, and make us sound as good as we do every episode. And finally, I'd like to thank you for listening.

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​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major public policy 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 at the dotEDU page.

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