Midterm Elections Loom Over Higher Ed


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired June 16, 2022

A number of important pieces of legislation for higher education are stalled in Congress as the midterm elections draw nearer. Issues like student loan forgiveness, immigration, and on the state level—academic freedom and critical race theory. How will higher ed be impacted as the summer closes in? Jon Fansmith and Sarah Spreitzer talk about all this and more in a live recorded episode.

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

Remember the Dreamers


Hearing: Strengthening our Workforce and Economy through Higher Education and Immigration
Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety 


 Read this episode's transcript

​John Fansmith: Hello, and welcome to dotEDU, the higher education policy podcast from the American Council on Education. In this episode of our monthly interactive recording, Sarah Spreitzer and I will talk about the midterm elections and what they mean for a wide range of higher education policy issues. Sarah, it's going to be a riveting conversation we recorded. I think people really enjoy it. But before we get to that, how are you doing?

Sarah Spreitzer: Pretty good. It's been a really busy week. I think you mentioned that in the popup. I think Congress and the administration are trying to jam everything in before July 4th, when they're going to leave town for a short recess. And then I think when they get back, relevant to our popup, I think it'll all be about the midterms. And so just a lot of things going on, people are doing in-person meetings. Again, I know we have a lot of anniversaries coming up. Today is actually the 10th anniversary of the DACA program. ACE has been a longtime advocate for our dreamers and some sort of permanent protection for them and trying to protect the existing DACA program. And then next week is the 50th anniversary of not only Title IX, but also the Pell Grant Program. And I know you've been very involved in that, John.

John Fansmith: Yeah. And it's the 50th anniversary of Pell Grants, obviously this is a program ACE spends a lot of time and effort advocating on behalf of, and we're particularly focused and have been working with a lot of our colleagues on the campaign to double the Pell Grant. And I think we are already beginning to see some results of that. The president himself proposed in his recent budget to double Pell Grants by 2029. But as you mentioned, the 50th anniversary is next Thursday, June the 23rd. One of the things both chambers of Congress have introduced resolutions making June 23rd National Pell Grant Day. And they're collecting bipartisan co-sponsors, we're really happy to see both of those bills were introduced in a bipartisan manner by the chair and ranking members of the Labor HHS Education Appropriation Subcommittee. This is the subcommittee in Congress that decides how much funding go to these programs. So obviously an encouraging bipartisan support for the resolution from those folks.

And especially positive as we are beginning to actually kick off the appropriation season in Congress. And you talked about, it's a very busy time, in a lot of ways we're waiting for the shoe to drop in a number of issues, Title IX, other regulations, see if there's progress on USICA and COMPETES, but there's still things happening and appropriations kicking off. Certainly in the house, we're being to see some hearings. We're seeing bill techs being introduced. It's not quite regular order. Normally this stuff is done around April, but any sign of progress in this area is a good sign. Maybe we'll see a bill certainly not before the election, but maybe before the end of the year. What do you think, Sarah?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. I mean, it's kind of like getting the annoying paperwork out of the way. So we have to go through this process. They're going to do their hearings. I think we'll see the house and the senate come up with their bills or at least framework for their appropriation bills. And then hopefully they'll be able to conference them after the midterm elections. But I'm with you. I don't see anything happening before the midterms. Obviously we'll have a couple continuing resolutions again this year.

John Fansmith: Yep. And people may recall the past year, it took them until the middle of March to resolve a process that's supposed to be resolved by October 1st. So throw an election in there, I think we might see a whole lot more of the same. Anything else going on that people should be paying attention to?

Sarah Spreitzer: Well, the house marked up their version of the National Defense Authorization Act, John, which I know you follow closely.

John Fansmith: Very closely, Sarah.

Sarah Spreitzer: Very closely. Well, this has become, this is a must pass piece of legislation that gets brought up every year. It authorizes the programs at the Department of Defense and provides authorization levels for the funding. So usually it goes hand in hand with the appropriations bill, but because it's must pass legislation, it's also become a vehicle for things that might get attached. And so we've been watching it very closely, especially when the bill actually gets marked up in the committee because we may see amendments that get added. Folks may remember last year, we actually saw a critical race theory amendment that was put onto the Senate, NDAA that we were able to get removed during the conference. But it has become one of those bills that last vehicle out of town, everybody put something on it that you want to see pass. And so it ends up taking up a lot of time.

John Fansmith: Yeah. And I was joking about, I follow it closely. It is one of my least favorite bills in part, because it is not really in my issue area, but as we get to that amendment process, which is always just a giant catastrophe, the randomness of things that get included for amendment scenes is kind of all hands on deck for the ACE stuff, because you really don't know where amendments will be proposed.

Sarah Spreitzer: And it's like 900 amendments, I think last year. And just reading through them. And I remember last year you emailed me. I was like, "I read through all of them," but of course I was looking for my specific issues. And you were like, "did you see this Pell amendment?" Which I completely missed. Yeah. It's a lot.

John Fansmith: Yeah, it's a lot. So we will keep an eye on that and many other things. As always, we appreciate your questions and suggestions for show ideas. And you can share those with us at podcast at ACEnet dot edu. That's podcast at ACEnet dot edu. Now enjoy the conversation between Sarah and I, going forward.


John Fansmith: Hello and welcome to today's public policy popup. Thank you for joining us during what's a very busy time here in Washington, DC, and I'm sure on campuses across the country. I am John Fansmith in government relations here at ACE. And for the first time, since we started doing these popups, we will not be joined by ACE senior vice president Terry Hartle. But luckily in Terry's absence, I am joined by my incredible colleague and podcast cohost Sarah Spreitzer, who's also a veteran of these popup sessions. Hey there, Sarah.

Sarah Spreitzer: Hey, and I'm hoping that we don't suddenly lose half of the audience when they learn that Terry is not here. So fingers crossed. They stick with us.

John Fansmith: That's right. I'm sure the producers will be tracking the numbers. But for this month's popup, last time we did a deep dive into student loan forgiveness. And one of the things we talked about was how much the politics and the midterm elections were driving the decision making on student loan forgiveness. So loan forgiveness though was only one aspect of higher education policy that's being influenced by the midterm elections. And so today we're going to touch on other aspects of higher education policy the midterms are impacting both here in DC and across the country. But as much as we are here in DC, and we're talking about national and federal level policy making, a lot of this seems to be following up from what the states are doing really, originating in the states and permeating up to the federal level. You want to start us off by talking a little bit about that?

Sarah Spreitzer: There's a whole host of issues that you could include kind of under a culture wars heading, we're seeing efforts in the states. We've seen legislation pass in Florida, that has to do with the teaching of critical race theory, or perhaps the Don't Say Gay bill about how certain topics are taught in the classrooms. We're also seeing things that would actually shape tenure and accreditation at many of the states. So Florida had bills that focused on this, that they were able to pass. And I think after we see a state successfully pass these types of things, other state legislatures will pick them up and try to kind of copy them at their state level. And so I think tenure and accreditation are also two issues. And then I think, we're also waiting very much. One of the other issues I think has to do with transgender and what's happening there. And I know John, you watch the Department of Education closely and we are waiting to see those Title IX regs.

John Fansmith: Yeah. And I shout out to our colleagues Anne Meehan and Peter McDonough who are tracking this as closely as anyone and frankly, are incredibly knowledgeable on this far more knowledgeable than I am. But I think this is a nice sort of segue because this is something at the federal level, it's going to be incredibly impactful, incredibly controversial. And it's going to draw a lot of attention on these same sort of culture war issues as you were just talking about. These regulations, we're expecting to see them possibly as early as next week, the proposed rules, June 23rd, next Thursday a week from tomorrow as we record this, is the 50th anniversary of Title IX becoming law. So there's a lot of rumor that maybe that would be the day the administration would introduce those proposed regulations. The Title IX regulations are always hugely controversial. When the Trump administration did their rule making, they received over 125,000 public comments. That's by far the most ever on a Department of Education rule making, it just speaks to the fact that these regulations are really impactful and draw a lot of public attention.

That said, you started also by talking about transgender individuals. And one of the reasons these regulations in particular will be especially politically charged is because we expect that they will address the rights of transgender and non-binary individuals. We believe that the new regulations will be consistent with the president's January, 2021 executive order. And we'll essentially state that discrimination on the basis of sex includes discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. That would absolutely include trans individuals. And as we've seen this is a big cultural issue. We've seen states introduce legislation relating to the healthcare afforded to trans children, or how gender identity is taught or respected.

Particularly in the area of athletics, this has become sort of an issue with a lot of attention. And so whatever the federal government does, but particularly if, as we suspect it, expands in federal law protection for trans and non-binary individuals, those forces who are speaking up in opposition to that, it's going to further inflame that rhetoric. So this is only going to up the ante in this area where it's already pretty super heated. As I mentioned, we will be tracking this. We expect to see this as soon as next week, but definitely people should keep tracking back to ACE's website, make sure that they can see the updates, communications we put out there and follow up with that.

But Sarah, speaking of issues, people are tracking closely, you are our foremost international expert. And one of the things that Congress has actually been working on is legislation around economic competition of China. This was a big issue in the 2020 presidential elections, competition of China, what's happening in that area?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. Thanks John. I think that this is one of those issues that both Dems and Republicans are focusing on as kind of a foreign policy platform. China is a competitor. We have to take actions to strengthen ourselves against efforts by China to overtake us on innovation. How we handle China diplomatically, there's a lot of conversations going on about that. How you handle like Taiwan. I would almost call this one of the sleeper issues because again, we're not in the states watching kind of the ads that are playing, I would call it more of a sleeper issue. But I think when you see a candidate talk about foreign policy, I would guess that China is likely going to be at the top of the list, whether you're talking to a Republican or a Democratic candidate.

And we've also seen this in the states. It has been taken up mostly by Republican controlled state legislatures where they've done their own foreign gift reporting. Our audience is probably familiar with the federal Section 117 foreign gift and contract reporting requirements that requires our institutions to report to the department of education about foreign gifts or contracts over $250,000. For some states that has not gone far enough. And we've seen in states such as Florida, where they've actually created their own state reporting requirements and their own state reporting portals to report foreign gifts and contracts at the 50K threshold. So the 250K threshold was considered too high and not just for institutions, also requiring individual staff and faculty to do that reporting. And I think once Florida passed that legislation, we've seen other states pick that up.

And while that's going on, Congress right now is trying to conference the U.S Innovation and Competition Act and the house-passed America COMPETES Act of 2022 referred to together as the Bipartisan Innovation Act to make it even more confusing. And there's issues in there that have to do with foreign gift reporting around the committee for foreign investment in the U.S, CFIUS. Looking at certain contracts between a foreign entity and institutions of higher education, looking at the threshold for Section 117 reporting, and then the creation of a new Section 124 that would require individuals to report foreign gifts and contracts to the Department of Education.

So it's obvious that Congress is looking to play into these issues that I think the states are kind of, we're not going to wait anymore and putting their own reporting requirements in. Obviously that's not helpful for our institutions that are going to have different reporting requirements to the state and to the federal government. But John, the issue that I think of the most, or at least what I hear from folks, what the midterm voters are thinking about really is inflation. And I think for colleges, that's a big issue when you start thinking about college cost. Can you talk a bit about that? I know that the last popup, you talked a lot about student loan forgiveness, and I think college cost kind of goes hand in hand with that.

John Fansmith: Yeah. And it's a good point. Inflation obviously, and anyone who has been checking voter polls, whether those are national or local sees that this is really a top of mind issue for people. I mean, the economy usually is a top of mind issue for people as they head to our elections, but with inflation at really pretty record numbers and inconsistently, so over a period of time, a lot of voters are focused on that. And this issue of increasing costs, we are definitely seeing that reflected in higher education. We hear from presidents all the time that they are seeing a real impact on the inflation. Increase of expenses on their budgets, it makes it very hard obviously to hold costs down for students. Some of the costs students are seeing reflect the cost of everything from technology to staffing and other areas of operation.

So in an immediate sense, inflation is definitely impacting it. I think the point you made though about how this is in some ways tied to the forgiveness debate is really true. And we talked a little bit about this last time. In some ways forgiveness has almost inevitably led to discussion about the cost of college and the cost of college, that's not a new discussion. We've been talking about the cost of college for decades. But the intensity of the forgiveness debate has really brought that up. We talked about these tweets by J.D. Vance, who's the Republican Senate candidate in Ohio, Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut. These are people very much on the opposite end of the political spectrum, but they were both saying essentially the same thing, the reason college costs are high. The reason we have a debt crisis is that college costs needs dramatic change, structural change to how we operate.

it's rare to find bipartisan agreement on anything in Washington these days. And maybe it's a little concerning for us that this is an area where there is that kind of agreement. Now, the agreement or what the problem is that might be bipartisan. There doesn't seem to be much bipartisan agreement on what the solutions would be, but it's tapping into what is frankly, a lot of increasing hostility towards colleges and universities that we're hearing. And it's not just, certain viewpoints it's from both sides of the aisle. It's tied to this perception about the value of a college degree and the question of whether students who are putting in all of this money and the federal government, which is putting in hundreds of billions of dollars into higher education annually, are they getting the return on investment they want to see?

I think it's a legitimate question. I think it's a question, frankly, higher education's well set to answer. I think we have good answers that we're making the case, but you can see the public narrative is increasingly questioning this. So we're in Washington. What would you do about this? If you think maybe the federal government and students aren't getting the return. Well, you would pass legislation to address that. And Congress has one big comprehensive bill, the Higher Education Act that would do just that.

And as I'm sure people who regularly listened to our podcast or watch these popups know they're not doing that, the Higher Education Act was last reauthorized in 2008, it was due to be reauthorized in 2013, since then there's been many proposals put forward. None of which seriously had a chance of moving into law. There's a lot of reasons why you can talk about different things. Two of the biggest really that are causing this sort of deadlock on the Higher Education Act reauthorization. The first is that on probably, maybe I'm exaggerating Terry's style here, but maybe 90, 95% of the issues in the bill, you could find bipartisan agreement. We're aware of lots of areas where the committees, staff, Republican Democrat were able to work through issues and come to agreement on different things.

But that remaining five or 10% is really contentious. It's things like sexual assault and the treatment of that. How do you address that in law? Things like that, where they're just strong divides have really kept them lot of ways from getting to the finish line. The other thing is, just how Congress works. If you are going to make changes to the loan programs, unless you're going to make them far more expensive for borrowers, it's going to cost you hundreds of billions of dollars, maybe trillions of dollars, to make those changes in law you have to fund those.

That's obviously I think everyone would agree our student loan system needs reform and needs improvement. But when you're talking about money at that level, that requires a huge amount of political will to get that done. That requires leadership saying not only this is something we want to do, but this is a priority so far above many other aspects, way outside of education policy, issues around defense or healthcare or early childhood education. You need a commitment from leadership that they're going to say of all the resources, the limited resources we have to allocate. This is where we want to put that.

So given those two challenges, it's not really a shock that we haven't seen higher act reauthorization. And in fact, what we've seen is these piecemeal approaches on bill, after bill, which are welcome in a lot of ways, make meaningful reforms, but don't get to this bigger picture issue that the public's really focused on. And Sarah, yeah, go ahead.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. I was going to say John, I think that's like for a lot of these issues that we're discussing, we've seen legislation introduced, in some cases it's very much a messaging and then Congress has been unable to move it. And I think in the lead up to the midterms, there's not going to be a lot pushing them to actually pass legislation, but there will be legislation introduced, I think, to help carry those messages for the midterms. And I was also going to touch on immigration because obviously that's a big issue with voters, I think in both parties. I think there's a lot of concern about what is happening at the Southern border on both sides of the aisle and what's going on there. There's also, as you were talking about the Higher Education Act, you think about Immigration and Nationalization Act. The INA.

We haven't been able to pass any comprehensive immigration legislation for decades. And so our immigration system now is kind of like they slap Band-Aids on things and the Biden administration has been trying to make changes through regulatory actions, but until there's actually comprehensive immigration legislation, we're still going to have a lot of these problems. Yesterday, there was an interesting Senate hearing on higher education and immigration. I would encourage all of you to go in and watch it. It's on the Senate judiciary website. And we'll include a link to that, I think in the chat.

And it was Senator Durbin, who is the chair of the judiciary committee, was there and talked about efforts to work across the aisle with Republicans, specifically pointing to Senator Cornyn and Senator Tillis who were also at the hearing, that he really wanted to sit down and see if they could come up with a path forward on immigration, given the success or seemingly the success that they've had on gun control legislation or at least that they seem to have had in the Senate, they've come up with some sort of bipartisan framework that they hope that they will take forward.

But Senator Durbin also pointed out that these are a lot of difficult issues. And if you're going to address DACA and I should note that this is the 10th anniversary of the DACA program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals as established by President Obama. It's a big, I don't want to say milestone, because we wish it was a program established by executive authority. We'd love to see some legislation making a permanent, but in that comprehensive immigration bill, you not only have the issues with DACA to address, you have to address the issue for deferred action for parenthood arrivals. You have to address issues for people that have been under temporary protected status for many years. You have to address issues with high-skilled immigration. The fact that we have so many people in the backlog for green cards, we have to address issues related to H-1B Visas. And the fact that there is a cap on those H-1B Visas, and the cap runs out within like usually two days of accepting H-1B applications.

And so there's all of these issues and it's almost like it's gotten too large for Congress to actually address all of it. And I think that's what they're facing, but I think in the lead up to the midterms, the issues of border safety are going to be on the minds of voters. And so Congress at least wants to keep the conversation moving forward because reforming our immigration system, I think there's bipartisan agreement that border safety goes hand in hand, but what is the tradeoff going to be?

John Fansmith: Thank you, Sarah. And I want to ask just you were at the hearing, the judiciary hearing in person, right? Is that the first hearing you've been to in person since the pandemic?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, in three years. And it was very nice. Chairman Padilla invited the higher education groups to come and watch the hearing in person. And our dear colleague from APLU, Bernie Burrola, testified for the higher education community. He did a great job. I encourage everybody to go and read his testimony, but it was wonderful. It felt like kind of being back and getting business done. And then Senator Durbin's comments about wanting to visit bipartisan immigration package after the July 4th holiday, I thought we're really hopeful. I don't think that they'll be able to get anything done before midterms, but at least they could start that conversation.

John Fansmith: Yeah. And I think there are a couple areas where there's probably some hopeful discussions. One that is, we know is top of president's minds is the area of campus mental health. And we have surveyed our members throughout the pandemic. We have heard this anecdotally, consistently student and staff mental health is the top issue on president's minds. And that was a top issue before the pandemic. The pandemic has only made that situation more, it's exacerbated the situation significantly there and there study after study now about the impact of the pandemic on student's mental health, on staff, on burnout, things like that.

So for a while we have been talking to Congress and the administration about things they can do. ACE actually had a webinar recently about how you can use your COVID relief funds to support mental health on campuses, which if you're interested in the subject and you haven't seen it, I would recommend you go back and look at, but we are beginning to actually see the fruit of some of those conversations and the conversations are taking place on the hill.

Unfortunately, I think one of the reasons we are beginning to see more action in this area is that we have as a nation undergone the wave of mass shootings, the issue of mental health has grown in the public's attention and the demand for legislators to do something to address this has only grown. So obviously this is not the set of circumstances. We would want to be driving this discussion. But as you said, there's hope of bipartisan agreement. We are being to see that here. The Senate Finance Committee is introducing a package of bills around youth mental health. These are bipartisan, it's part of effort the committee has been undertaking to address mental health that's been going forward.

We also know that the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is working on legislation in this area. And then on the House side, there's been bills that have been introduced, not all bipartisan, but some with bipartisan support around mental health and disability that have gone forward. So you are beginning to see movement to address the mental health crisis that our presidents, our staff are seeing on campuses. I would say at this point, most of these proposals are relatively small on scale. They would fall short of what we would hope to see in terms of support.

But I think the momentum is certainly moving in that direction. We are obviously eager to keep that momentum going and see what can be done to advance students and staff's mental health on campuses. But Sarah, before we conclude, and I want to say we have had a lot of questions coming in and we had some questions there also submitted in advance. So I think we'll have a number of questions to get to as we talk. But before we do that, we've been talking about the midterm elections. This is a time of year when it's not just the politics of it, but campuses themselves have lots of questions about what they can do to inform their students and their staff about participating as voters, informing them as to the issues.

These can be particularly tricky issues for campuses and understandably people want to proceed appropriately. So I wanted to plug ACE has a guide up on our website. It's regularly updated as there are changes in the law that can assist campuses in navigating these waters. As we talked about a lot of issues, touch higher education, they will be tense and charged issues. So I would really recommend that as a resource.

The other thing I would recommend is that people look at examples of institutions that are doing great work in this area, especially promoting civics education and voter participation. You and I have had the privilege on the podcast of talking to leadership at the University of Utah, the University of Richmond about their efforts in this area. But there are lots of other campuses that are doing great work. So for those of you thinking about this, looking to update your policies or see what you can do in the space, I would say be very attentive to those issues, look around there's lots of good models to follow.

Sarah Spreitzer: And I think that's like a deep track reference, John, because that was back in, I think season two, I think it was in the last presidential election. We talked a lot about campuses doing things around civic education and voter turnout. And so we will link to those episodes also. But John, I'm going to ask you the first question that we received before this and it's, who are educational champions right now in Congress? And I guess given the fact that we were just talking about midterms, what's going to happen to our two favorite committees HELP and Ed and Labor if the House flips, if the Senate flips. And I think we're seeing congressional offices already kind of try to figure out what committees the member may serve on in the next Congress, what legislation will be reintroduced? So I don't think it's too early to have this conversation.

John Fansmith: No, I mean, in DC, I think we started having those conversations immediately after the last election. Now, we know who's going to be where, let's start talking about the next election cycle and it is obviously complicated a little bit because we don't exactly know what the makeup will look like. I think certainly the prevailing wisdom is that Republicans will retake the House maybe with a strong majority, margin of certainly more than 10 votes or so. So you look at the house side and one of I think probably the more interesting things is that it's widely believed that Elise Stefanik, who is a member of the House Republican leadership team would take over as chair of Ed and Labor from Virginia Fox.

It will be interesting to see that because obviously somebody with as much national attention as Representative Stefanik, who has such close ties to leadership, education has become an increasingly partisan issue. You would think to a certain extent that would only accelerate that trend. And that's on both sides, that's not just for Republicans, but certainly this is a member of Congress who has a much higher national profile and has been waging these sort of more partisan battles. So that's a reasonable assumption.

On the Senate side, I think you hear different predictions. Sarah I've said this a few times, my belief is that Democrats will retain the Senate with a small minority or small majority. I think I might be in the minority in believing that the more I talk to people. If Democrats do it's very likely, Patty Murray will retain her chairmanship. She fought very hard to maintain it the last go around. This is a member of Congress who cares deeply about education in particular. If it does flip though, Senator Burr who's the current ranking member will no longer be in the Senate.

And so at least the next in line looks to be Senator Rand Paul. Senator Paul has not historically been deeply involved in education issues. I think he's a little bit, particularly in higher education space, a little bit more of a black box in terms of what his policy priorities in that area will be. This isn't always uncommon, for some of these committees. HELP has a big jurisdiction. They cover a lot of different issues. It's not a shock that there's members on those committees for whom education isn't necessarily their primary issue. In fact that they might care more about the health component of it. That would certainly seem to be a reasonable assumption about Senator Paul that healthcare would be far more of a priority of his than the education side. Again, we don't know that. There's also always a lot of jockying because sometimes other committee assignments become available that members see as preferential, even if they have seniority on one.

So we can guess, we can make predictions. I think they're worth about as much as they're written down here. But stepping back, the question started, who are our champions and that's such a great question. It's such an interesting question because higher ed is active in so many different areas of federal agencies. So just the rundown we gave today about the issues we're thinking about really speaks to the fact that, different federal agencies, different committees, all oversee interactions with colleges and universities. And so to say, who are our champions? Well, I would probably say, what issue are you talking about? We have different champions on student financial aid than we do on scientific research.

There may be overlap. But even then beyond that, there's lots of members of Congress who have strong identification with particular programs. Maybe they were a part of authorizing or creating that program. Maybe there's a legacy to that program that they have taken up. So it really does. We have a lot of people who are champions, but I don't know that there's anyone you would say, this is the champion of all of higher education, although I'm really actually curious to hear your take on that too, Sarah.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. I think it's interesting. I think members kind of define themselves and I think it will be the people that want to be on those committees. Want to take a leadership position. Senator Paul, I think was up for the help chairmanship if the Senate had remained Republican, but instead of him becoming ranking member, we saw Senator Burr become the ranking member because of some changes to his committee assignments. And so I think you're right. If he were to take HELP, it might be more of a healthcare focus given his interest. But also thinking about our appropriators, our funders of education, not just our authorizers, but we are losing Senator Roy Blunt from Missouri who has been a champion for NIH and for the Pell Grant, on the Republican side. And then we are also losing Congresswoman Roybal-Allard, in the house side. And she's been a very active member on the Labor H appropriations.

And so it's losing kind of the knowledge that those members bring to the topic because they've been doing it for a while and an opportunity to educate like the new leadership coming in and then trying to find out where their interests are and then what issues they may champion. So I'm going to miss people like Senator Blunt, who's been a champion for our issues, but I also think it's a great opportunity to build those new champions and to get in there and kind of educate them about our issues.

John Fansmith: Yeah, very true. So we have another question, Sarah, and this is very much in your wheelhouse. This person says that they're always interested on issues related to international education. What are policies that the Biden change that may be threatened? I'm assuming the rest of the question is if the House is to flip or the Congress is to flip to Republican control.

Sarah Spreitzer: I mean, I'm always interested in international education questions. So happy to know that there's somebody else out there like that. The Biden administration, I talked about the inability of Congress to kind of move on immigration legislation. And so the Biden administration has been trying to do a lot on the regulatory front. We are still waiting for the final rule around DACA. Obviously DACA's been caught up in court cases, but to protect and fortify the program, the Biden administration released a proposed rule, which we submitted comments on. I think it was in December, basically kind of further codifying the existing program, not expanding it, but codifying the Obama program, which as we discussed was established 10 years ago. And they haven't released that final rule yet. And we're all kind of waiting to see. There were some rumors that it might come this week, given that it's the 10th anniversary of DACA, but we haven't seen anything yet.

And obviously I think if the House were to flip, they might try to do something around it. But again, given the inability of them to move immigration legislation, I don't think that's going to happen right away. They have also granted some flexibility for our international students, especially in kind of the post COVID era as our consulates around the world are working through the backlog of visa applications. We've been working with State and with the Department of Homeland Security to try to increase processing times for student visas and work authorizations for optional practical training for students that are here.

And I think that state and DHS are working very hard to address that. And I think the Biden administration has allowed for some flexibility that allows them to get through that backlog a little quicker. So for example, waving the interview requirement, if you're coming from a country that participates in the visa waiver program. So like you're coming from the UK, or if you've held a student visa in previous years, the interview requirement is waived. So I think that those are also things that are supported by the Republicans and I actually think that Republicans would likely be harder on the State Department and on DHS, on processing times, just given the fact that they're trying to address economic issues.

And I think that not only is higher ed pushing for that, but you're also thinking about the tourist industry, the business community, everybody is kind of supporting, let's bring the tourists back. Let's open up travel. We need to get our workers here. We need to get our students here. So I don't think that's an issue. I think that bigger thing will be in the next administration because we've seen any changes made to immigration through regulatory action. And so I think the next administration would likely take executive action to roll back the Biden administration if it is a Republican administration. But I don't think anything will happen with Congress. Hopefully it's the bipartisan immigration reform Senator Durbin talked about yesterday.

John Fansmith: Fingers crossed.

Sarah Spreitzer: Fingers crossed. So John, the next question is for you, or at least we decided to give it to you, what has to happen for political players to decide that criticism of universities is not a winning issue. And I think part of this right goes to the issue of college cost and how it's actually an issue, I think, in the upcoming midterms and loan forgiveness. So what does have to happen to kind of move us off of these issues that voters are paying close attention to?

John Fansmith: Yeah. I think the simple answer would be, it has to stop being a winning issue. And that's a little bit, blithe about it, but to step back a little really, there's a reason we are seeing these attacks and there's a reason we're seeing these attacks escalate. Some of it is cost. People are questioning the cost and value of higher education. That makes the fact that, if our institutions and our staff are not seen necessarily as likable as they used to be, it's not a surprise that you will start to see, especially in an election year where a lot of messaging legislation, maybe that's never intended to be passed, but is intended to communicate a candidate's views are being put forward. You'll see some of this rhetoric ramped up, you'll see some of these attacks ramped up. Cost is one of those factors.

But the other thing is we have seen a partisan divide around higher education in the electorate. And it's not always reflected in views of the electorate towards higher education, but there's been a dramatic shift between the two parties that the majority of Democratic voters now have a college education. The majority of Republican voters do not. If you are looking at how do you excite your base, how do you get your voters to turn out? You can see that Democrats and Republicans in appealing to their own voters would take very different positions on higher education because their own voters have had very different experiences of higher education. If you never went to college, you may not see college as being as valuable as a person who did. And you certainly may not see that as a priority for where you would put federal funding.

So it's not a shock that you tend to see these things moving up. I think what's surprised me, and you touched on this in the beginning is seeing things like attacks on tenure status. You're going beyond even this idea of sort of the cost of college or colleges and universities being very liberal institutions or not reflecting, maybe the values of the communities that surround them to this sort of more targeted approach to what can institutions teach, who should be teaching them, what are the conditions under which they can teach them? Again, I think it's driven really by political means. I don't know that there's necessarily a lot of actual policy concerns in these areas, but it's troubling. Nonetheless, having these questions raised, having legislation introduced in those areas, especially where in a few cases we are seeing, tenure protections curtailed, that's very troubling.

How do we get people to change? How do we get that to change? Well, I think we have to start communicating better. I think we're trying, I think we have to talk about the value of a college education. Why it's not just an individual good. Why it's a public good, the benefits to society. We do a really good job in some ways about doing this technology and innovation. We do a great job of talking about the benefits of academic research and how that translates to the phone in your pocket or the healthcare you receive. We don't do as good a job talking about the things that bond college graduates to their communities that institutions do as engines of their local economies, lots of different institutions do great work in this area, but cohesively on the national level, there's certainly a lot of work left to be done.

Again. I said this before. I think we have a really great story to tell. I think we are telling that story. I think most people you talk to still, and we've done polling to this effect, recognize that college is really important. I always find it kind of amusing, Sarah. You ask people, do you think it's important to go to college? You think college is a valuable experience. In polls, those numbers are dropping, but when you ask them, do you want to send your kids to college? Those numbers are consistently high people see the advantage for their own families, but when asked about, whether it's a societal good, they're a little less enthusiastic in some cases, a lot less enthusiastic. So we need to just keep making that message, getting it out there. Some of this will depend on the election cycle too, but ultimately I think we have a very good case to make. We just have to keep making it.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. It reminds me of those polls that they do about support for Congress as a whole. Congress always pulls very, very, very low. But when you ask somebody about their individual member of Congress, they always pull very high.

John Fansmith: Yeah. My member's the good one.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. My member's the good one, but the rest of them should be thrown out. When you ask people about an institution of higher education, that's in their backyard or within their state, they're like, "Oh, that's a great institution. We're so proud of it." They may know some of the things that they bring to the state, to the region, but then, the other ones are just no good.

John Fansmith: Yeah. That's a great point. So Sarah, there's a couple other questions that we've had coming in. One of these I would address to you. So can presidents and chancellors become more involved in the conversation on gun violence?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. It's interesting that the Senate, has this kind of bipartisan framework around gun safety. And I have to admit I'm hopeful myself that they can actually move someone on this issue. But I think John, just as you were talking about, the importance of colleges and universities in our communities, obviously our colleges and universities are going to be part of those discussions. I think within their communities on how to address gun safety and gun violence and kind of what's going on.

And so I think that those are discussions that folks are having, I think within their communities, within their regions, within their states, whatever happens on kind of the federal side. And so we're going to wait to see what happens with this bipartisan package. But even if it doesn't go anywhere, I think our institutions will be central to their communities, having those discussions.

John Fansmith: Yeah. And I think one of the things, that's an interesting tension that always exists in the space. And it's not just on this issue, but we hear this all the time. There are definitely regional differences and views on what are the appropriate gun safety measures, colleges and universities often reflect their communities and certainly situation well within their communities. There can be challenges for institutions where the viewpoints may be more aggressive in one area of this policy or not that may conflict with state legislatures, especially public institutions, which may depend for large part on funding from the legislature. So it can be a very tricky area. I think that makes it all the more important that the institutions that have the ability to speak out and express their views, reflect the views of their community and be active participants.

We know the research our campuses produce around this issue helps strive the debate and the discussion about not just the need for solutions, but what are the good possible solutions that are out there? What can be done? So again, it can be very tricky. We certainly understand that not every institution can take the same positions, but there is a lot that can be done. And I think certainly as respected voices within the community college and university leaders have an opportunity where they can to step up and speak out.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. And Jon, one of our questions was, can we talk about something hopeful and maybe that's a good place to end. Is hopefulness that Congress will be able to actually address a major issue within a bipartisan manner before the midterms. We've talked a lot about the fact in previous podcasts about the fact like, come July 4th, things are going to start slowing down here on things that can actually get moved. But I think I, this week I'm feeling much more hopeful that Congress can actually come up with some of the solutions on these major issues.

John Fansmith: Yeah. The gun control agreement in the Senate, the bipartisan legislation around mental health, we don't see a lot of bipartisan agreement on things. And as you talked about, especially in an election year, a lot of times members of Congress, frankly, are reticent to stake out a position that may alienate voters. They're focused on reelection. The fact that there are a number of members of Congress who are stepping out and saying, let's find common ground, let's find agreement, regardless of whether you think necessarily those solutions will go far enough or not. The fact that there is progress is actually really hopeful and even more so given the climate we're in and the fact that the midterm elections are looming over everything that's happening here. So I think that's a real positive and something to end our popup on with a positive note, we almost never end on a positive note. Right, Sarah?

Sarah Spreitzer: I know it's because sadly, Terry isn't here, we'll have to tell him, the first popup he's missing, we're ending on a hopeful note.

John Fansmith: That's right. Well, I want to thank everyone for attending today. We really appreciate the questions that you sent in. As always, they make these discussions, these popups a lot more interesting, not only for us, but hopefully for you as well. And we appreciate all your thoughts, comment, suggestions, and please keep sending them in and keep an eye out for the next popup session in July. Information will be coming out from ACE about that. Thanks and enjoy the rest of your day.

Sarah Spreitzer: As always podcast friends, you can check out earlier episodes and subscribe dotEDU on Apple, Google podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcast. For show notes and links to the resources mentioned in the episode, you can go to our website at ACE net dotEDU /podcast. And while there, please take a short survey to let us know how we're doing. You can also email us @podcastacenetdotedu to give us suggestions on upcoming shows and guests, and a very big thank you to the producers who helped pull this podcast together. Laurie Aston, Audrey Hamilton, Malcolm Moore, Anthony Truhart, Asani Stenson and Fatma Gom. They do an incredible job making this happen and making John, Moshak and I sound as good as possible. And finally, thank you so much for listening.​

About the Podcast

​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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