The Year in Higher Education Policy


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired December 21, 2022

Hosts Jon Fansmith and Sarah Spreitzer are joined by ACE Senior Vice President Terry Hartle to discuss the federal policy developments in 2022 that impacted students and higher education institutions. They look at what got done, what didn’t, and what issues are still pending in 2023, from student loan forgiveness to new Title IX regulations to the upcoming Supreme Court decision on race in college admissions.

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

Congress to Boost Pell Grant by $500
Inside Higher Ed | Dec. 21, 2022

Effort in U.S. Congress to Protect 'Dreamer' Immigrants Stalling
Reuters | Dec. 15, 2022

Student Loan Borrowers Thought They were Getting Relief. Now, Courts Have Put Their Lives on Hold.
NBC | Dec. 10, 2022

360,000 Student Loan Borrowers Received $24 Billion in Forgiveness from Fix to Public Service Loan Forgiveness
CNBC | Dec. 8, 2022

International College Enrollment Ticks Back up After Pandemic
The Washington Post (sub. req.) | Nov. 14, 2022

CHIPS+ Could Change the U.S. Semiconductor Supply Chain, and More
The Washington Post (sub. req.) | Dec. 19, 2022

New Title IX Rules Get 235,000 Comments
Inside Higher Ed | Sept. 14, 2022

Financial Aid Letters Don’t Reveal the Real Cost of College
The Washington Post (sub. req.) | Dec. 7, 2022

ACE, Higher Ed Groups Launch Task Force to Improve Student Aid Offers and Price Transparency


 Read this episode's transcript

Jon 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, Terry Hartle and Sarah Spreitzer are joining me to talk about what happened over the past year in higher education policy and what to look forward to in 2023. As always, we appreciate your questions and suggestions for show ideas, and you can share those with us at Now, enjoy the conversation.


Jon Fansmith: Hello and welcome to the December edition of ACE's Public Policy Pop-up. I'm your host, Jon Fansmith, and I am joined today by my colleagues Terry Hartle and Sarah Spreitzer. Today, we are going to look at the biggest stories from 2022, the year that we are wrapping up as we speak, and what to look for in the coming year. But first, Terry, even though we are looking forward to the next year, there's still a few things Congress needs to wrap up before this year's over. You want to give a little overview of what we're looking to do before we turn the clock into the new year?

Terry Hartle: Sure. Well, I think everyone knows that Congress is in the final week. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has said that the Republicans will not come back after they adjourn at the end of this week. So the pressure is on to finish everything that is outstanding this week. They've boiled it down to a small number of things. Most notably, Jon, would be on the omnibus spending bill, which will provide funding for the entire remainder of the fiscal year for all of the federal agencies. Congress has been operating under a continuing resolution, temporary spending bills agencies haven't been able to make plans, but they'll be able to do that pretty soon.

But Jon, we don't know anything yet about what's going to be in the omnibus, do we? It's going to be another one of these 4,000-page bills that nobody will have had a chance to read before they actually start voting on it, I think as soon as Wednesday night or Thursday. Is that your take on this?

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, no, and it's a $1.7 trillion spending bill give or take. And you're right, most people don't know what's in it, don't know what the levels will be. There's a lot of heated discussion especially over the weekend that's really picked up about what other provisions, legislative and otherwise, may be added to it because it really is in a lot of ways one of the last buses out of town before the holiday. The fact that we're doing it this late in the year, frankly, is not all that uncommon the way things have been going in Congress. In fact, what's maybe most uncommon about doing it before the end of the year, is that they're actually getting it done before the end of the year. This past year, we went into March before it was resolved more than halfway through the fiscal year.

So in some ways, progress, right? Like we're doing this at the end of December, even though it's supposed to be done at the end of September, but better than doing it in March. In terms of what might be in there, I think we're going to see a big increase for defense spending. That's been the pattern relative years. We'll probably see a smaller increase for non-defense spending. That was really the big holdup why there's been a fight frankly to get to this point, how much that split would be and how equitable it would be between the two sides of the budget. We expect to see something around the president's request level, maybe more for defense.

For our community, there's a whole bunch of things in there, lots of things we care about. I think the highlights probably are the Pell Grant increase. We would hope to see, we expect to see at least a $500 increase to the maximum Pell Award that was in both the House passed bills and what Senate Democrats had proposed. We've also seen substantial increases for NIH funding, other areas of research funding. So things to look forward to.

Today we expect to see that text itself. Today is the day we expect to see the bills themselves released. As we pointed out, these will be 4,000-page bills. They will include the legislative text, they'll include columns and tables of the funding levels. They will include all sorts of report language that has policy implications. And in addition, in a continuing relatively recent tradition, we'll see the community funded projects listings, the new names for earmarks. We in higher ed care a lot about those because higher ed institutions received the largest number of earmarks. We did before the earmarks ban went into effect. We have since the earmarks have returned. We also received the largest dollar terms in number of earmarks. So these are something that are really beneficial to the higher ed community.

So a lot out there. I think most of us expect to spend tonight and to that tomorrow parsing out different budget lines, seeing where the increases are, seeing what policy constraints may be attached to those. I think that's going to be something we're going to pay a lot of attention to. The Senate is expected to move first in some [inaudible 00:04:50] file cloture. They have about 30 hours that they have to do to file cloture, so they may in fact move ahead of the House. But you're right, Terry, timing-wise, we're thinking votes starting Sunday afternoon into Thursday, get members out of town before their Thursday night flight so they can be home for the holidays. And that seems to be we are on pace to hit that, so that's where we stand.

Terry Hartle: Well, the other thing we've started hearing about is that the omnibus bill might include the Electoral College Reform Act. This is some legislation coming out of the controversy surrounding the 2020 election. This essentially would say that no, that Congress does not have the authority to refuse to accept state certified electoral results. This is something that's been in the works. It enjoys pretty widespread popularity because it would clarify one little point of uncertainty. And now we're hearing it might be added to the omnibus spending bill, which is probably a good thing because it's probably the only way this is going to pass before the end of the year. One can imagine bringing something like that to the floor, particularly in their Senate. There might be lots of amendments around the Electoral College Act that people would want to offer.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. And Terry, I would just mention two things I forgot to mention in my rundown: The first is... And we don't know for a fact that either these will be included but there has been a lot of conversation about them being attached. The first would be additional funding, infrastructure funding for HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs. There has been a couple different legislative proposals to do that. The conversations around that have heated up. We've been very supportive of the inclusion of that money. There is some hope that that will be in this bill. The other, again, a lot of indicators, but at this point, smoke, not fire, that there may be an extension of the subsidies for the Build America Bonds Acts, which a lot of public institutions have used to for financing. So we are hopeful to see both of those things. Obviously, critical support for institutions and things, like I said, we are very hopeful to see in a final bill and have some hope that they will be included.

Terry Hartle: Okay. Well, Sarah, we're happy to have you joined Jon and me for this episode. Thanks for being here.

Jon Fansmith: Speak for yourself, Terry.

Sarah Spreitzer: Wow. Getting thrown under the bus already.

Terry Hartle: Not by me. Let the record show.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yes.

Terry Hartle: But Sarah, one thing you watched very carefully for us was the National Defense Authorization Act. This was another odd year in terms of NDAA. Congress had great difficulty getting this up and ready to pass. Eventually, they agreed on a slimmed-down bill. We were concerned that there might be elements in here related to research security, more regulation of scientific research on college and university campuses, but none of that appeared at the end of the day because they passed a slimmed-down bill. You want to talk a little bit about that?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, that's correct, Terry. Well, we'd seen some problematic research security provisions in both the House-passed NDAA, which is the National Defense Authorization Act, and then in the Senate version of the bill. Those were not included in what was actually sent to the President's desk on Friday. It was a very clean, slimmed-down NDAA. I think it was still about a thousand pages, but it didn't have the provisions that we watched very closely as we have had in previous years where they've tried to put restrictions on institutions with Confucius Institutes or looked at foreign gift reporting.

The one thing to note is that there are, I think it's three new programs for HBCUs, TCUs, and other MSIs, minority serving institutions, to really build their research capacity, especially in Department of Defense funding. And so there's going to be a new pilot program that will work to ensure that MSI and HBCUs are receiving some of the permanent defense funded research and development funds, and really the goal is to move those institutions from being classified as R2s into the R1 category. And so that was great to see included in the final bill.

I will say that the one thing that wasn't included that we were a little disappointed, it is also one of the last buses out of town, and so we try to see if they're going to move anything. It gets attached to that. We were hopeful that we were going to see Congress do something for DACA, for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or indeed any of the immigration issues that we usually track. The House-passed NDAA did have a provision that would provide protections for documented dreamers, those people who came to the US as young children through legal immigration pathways, but because their parents are aging out of the system, they must return to their home countries. That was not included in the final NDAA. And in fact, while Congress discussed some immigration legislation, nothing actually came of it. We had heard that Senators Sinema and Tillis had an immigration framework that would provide a pathway to citizenship for some of our dreamers. Nothing actually came of that. And so unfortunately, we haven't seen Congress take really any action on immigration in this Congress.

Terry Hartle: Yeah, Sarah, one of the questions that came into the chat was, what is plan B for dealing with DACA? I think the sad answer is there is no plan B. We will just have to wait and see. But when Congress gets around to trying to take this up again, it sure looked like they had the makings of a deal with Sinema and Tillis, but it just simply fell apart in the last hours of this Congress.

Okay. Let's turn to the big news from 2022. Jon, I think the first thing we ought to tee up is Build Back Better collapsed, much to the disappointment of Democrats and to a lot of interest groups including in higher education, elementary, secondary education that had very high hopes for that legislation. You want to talk for a minute about that?

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, I mean, it's interesting that we talked about Senators Manchin and particularly Senator Sinema as you just mentioned, because that really was the inability to get them on board for various pieces of, especially Senator Manchin, is what killed the really, really ambitious Build Back Better Act and result in its transformation to the much more slimmed-down, much more narrowly targeted Inflation Reduction Act that was passed. It was a legislative achievement for the administration and certainly an achievement for Democrats in Congress, but relative to what the administration first put out really in the spring of 2021, which was a hugely ambitious program with hundreds of billions of dollars in funding for higher education across things like free community college, a massive increase in Pell Grant funding, infrastructure support for HBCUs, TCUs and MSIs, health pipelines, pathways programs, really student support programs, things across the board, a really ambitious program that just could never get Senator Manchin's support. And ultimately that came down to something far less significant.

Ultimately very disappointing, but the realities of Washington, especially after some of the other big spending bills like the American Recovery Plan were passed through. There was just a greater hesitancy about big spending projects. And so we are coming to the end of this year with that funding sideline. You can see it in some of these other proposals. We talked about the infrastructure money that might be attached on those. Obviously much smaller. Student support services have been included in appropriations in much reduced level. So some of these things, the priorities are still being addressed, but really at the tens of millions of dollars level, not at the tens of billions of dollars level.

Terry Hartle: One of the things that I think surprised me with the collapse of Build Back Better is that that was the end of any discussion about free community college. The idea has just completely disappeared. It's not talked about anymore. A lot of people recognize you might get, in essence, to free community college if you make enough progress in expanding the Pell Grant. But doubling the Pell Grant, we're not going to get there in a big step. It's going to be a series of size steps to get us there. As Jon mentioned earlier, we're hopeful that we'll see a big increase in the Pell Grant this year, perhaps on the order of $500 in the maximum award. That would mean $900 over two years. Under normal circumstances, that is a really red-letter accomplishment, but in the context of hoping to have seen the Pell Grant double didn't happen.

I think if there's any silver lining to the collapse of Build Back Better it is that had Build Back Better passed, it probably would've increased the inflationary pressures in the economy, which would've created more problems for all of us right now and certainly down the road. But in terms of the Biden administration's very big, very aggressive, higher education agenda, the collapse of Build Back Better really took the wind out of their sails.

Now Jon, another thing you and I have talked a lot about is the huge, almost Hamlet-like uncertainty about what's going to happen with student loan forgiveness. We talked about that in our first pop-up session of the year, and we're still talking about it and we'll be talking about it next year. It seems like the administration couldn't make up their mind. Eventually as the election grew closer, they did make up their mind. It was perhaps more controversial than a lot of people expected. The courts have gotten involved. We're stalled, but we have delayed the repayment, start of repayment on student loans. Any thoughts on that one?

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, no, and I'm trying not to read too much into you equating this to a tragedy, but certainly if you are the administration, you could be looking at it that way, right? They put a lot of time and effort into it. They walked a very difficult political line, right? This was one of those where there was flack on all sides, right? Some people wanted to be much more expansive as a proposal. So there was particularly progressive Democrats who were disappointed with the scope of the proposal the administration put forward.

Obviously, congressional Republicans were very, very critical of any form of student loan forgiveness. So they took a lot of time and they put a lot of effort and took a lot of heat, frankly, for putting this forward. There was a huge public response, right? I mean, you can talk about what the political dynamics were, but the registration, the signup to get forgiveness approved, I think it was live for less than a month before the courts put an injunction in place. And in that time, 26 million people out of roughly 45 million borrowers total. Not all 45 million of those would be eligible, but more than half of all borrowers in repayment signed up for this.

So regardless of what you may think about the policy, generous enough or whether it's appropriate, it was clear that there was a strong public interest in this. And we've seen that dominated the new cycle like nothing else in higher ed did. We are in this weird position right now where the courts have essentially put injunctions in place on the administration, not just in terms of processing loan relief, but even processing new applications. So the application process is shut down. The Supreme Court in the last week has announced they'll hear now both of the major lawsuits against this program. There will be hearings that was announced today.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in both of those cases together on February 28th. So there is movement towards that. Briefs are going to start being filed as soon as January 4th. All of that leaves repayment up in the air because the administration decided, "If we don't know how much of loans we're going to forgive the previous goal of restarting repayment January 1st has to be put on hold." You can't ask people to start repaying if you might be forgiving the amount of money they'll eventually be repaying on.

So we will wait and see. The Supreme Court's expected to return a decision after those oral arguments in February, sometime around June. Probably late May, early June. If they do that, repayment according to the Department of Education will resume on June 30th with a two-month administrative extension. So effectively an August 30th resumption of repayment. But that could move up if there was an earlier court decision. The Department of Education's policy says it'll tie themselves to what the courts decide. But realistically, we are probably looking at an August 30th repayment at the earliest regardless of whether forgiveness is allowed to go forward by the Supreme Court.

Terry Hartle: But one thing we have noticed. They haven't gotten the credit for it that they deserve, the Biden administration has made tremendous use of the existing forgiveness and cancellation provisions to provide relief to a large number of borrowers. Jon, I think it's like 2 million borrowers have received some relief under some of the existing forgiveness and cancellation programs. That's a small number compared to the 40 million who have taken out student loans. But given that those programs were essentially more a bond when the Biden administration took office, I think the Biden administration deserves a great credit for trying to make those into workable programs to help students as much as they can. Your thoughts?

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, no, and it's a great point, Terry, too, because this is one of those things that I think has really flown under the radar for all of the noise and attention around broad-base loan forgiveness. The most recent numbers I have seen really from a couple weeks ago, it's $48 billion in loan forgiveness the department has granted. Half of that is through the revamp of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness, the temporary waiver. That program expired at the end of October. But you're right, it's about 1.8 million borrowers, $48 billion. We're talking about broad-based loan forgiveness is possibly costing up to $400 billion. Without any of the fanfare, about 1/8 of that has been granted by the department through total and permanent disability relief, through borrower defense claims. It's a really massive effort to address the needs of a lot of borrowers who are struggling with repayment in ways totally outside of what's getting most of the attention in Washington, DC. So a really ambitious program, it shows this administration's priorities and the way they're very aggressively using executive authority to accomplish those goals when they can't get legislative action.

Terry Hartle: Yeah. Clearly, it's success for the administration, but one they have not gotten a public attention that they probably should have received for doing it.

Well, Sarah, one of the issues that the pandemic was dragging on was, what's going to happen to international student enrollment once the pandemic ends? We saw a sharp decline, international student enrollment, but we've now seen what's happened. Now that the pandemic restrictions have been relaxed, the numbers are in on international students and they are very good. You want to tell us a little bit about that?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, so Terry, we are still slightly below our kind of high watermark from 2016 when more than a million international students came to the US, where at, I think, around 960,000. But really good news, it was actually an 80 percent increase from when many of our institutions were closed for COVID. And so it's wonderful news. The State Department, the Biden administration, have really focused on sending this more welcoming message to our international students, and I think that it is having an impact.

Now, one of the interesting things about the numbers that were released from Open Doors, which is from our friends at IIE and the State Department, was that the demographics in the international students coming to the US did change a bit. So we did see a drop in students coming from China, which is traditionally the biggest sender of international students. It was about a 13 percent drop in Chinese undergraduates. But those numbers seem to be made up by an influx of students actually coming from India. They saw about an 18 percent increase. And so that really brought us back to kind of pre COVID international enrollment numbers, which is really great, with some difference of the sending countries. And then I would just say NAFSA, the National Association of International Educators, every year does an economic impact, number of the economic impact on the United States from international students. And this year they showed that the economic impact is around $34 billion, which again is slightly below the high watermark but still a really good number to show the rebound of international enrollment.

Terry Hartle: And of course, part of the numbers from China, the extent to which they're down because of tensions between the US and China and because the U.S. embassies and consulates haven't been fully reopened in China can't be told at present. We'll have to wait and see what those numbers look like next fall. But a very welcome increase in international enrollments after the pandemic. So we'll count that as something that worked out very well for higher education.

I think another thing that at the end of the day worked out quite well was the CHIPS legislation that Congress acted to provide more funding for scientific research, particularly around semiconductors and high technologies. We had some success there in increasing funding, or at least the possibility of more funding in future years. And at the same time, we were managed to hold off some potentially very troubling federal regulations that might have followed had they been enacted. You want to talk a little about that?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. I think, Terry, this was a big legislative victory too because it was a bipartisan bill that passed. It was very slimmed-down from what we'd seen coming out of the Senate, which was the US Innovation and Competition Act, and the House-passed America COMPETES Act, but it did authorize large increases of funding for the National Science Foundation, for NIST, for NASA. Right now, I think advocates are very much engaged because these are just authorizations, it's not funding, of doing a last minute push for the omnibus to say, "Look, this Congress passed the CHIPS and Science Act. You promised us additional funding for NSF, and so we'd like to see that in appropriations." But this bill was really a competition bill, specifically kind of focused on China.

And so we were monitoring it very closely for those research security provisions, any provisions that would've impacted immigration or international students. And really they ended up taking a lot of that out. We had weighed in regarding proposals around CFIUS, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, and whether they would be examining foreign gifts to U.S. institutions of higher education. All of that wasn't included. The one provision that was included that was interesting is that NSF will now have a foreign gift requirement as the Department of Education has one under Section 117. If you receive NSF funding, the institution is going to have to submit an annual summary of any foreign funding over $50,000. And I know NSF is working to figure out how to implement that. But really, a good victory for science advocates.

Terry Hartle: Yeah, I think in terms of statement of national priorities, it's wonderful. In terms of actual money being delivered, there is some hope and some promise that is there. And in terms of things that could have significantly complicated the regulatory apparatus around scientific research, I think we dodged a bullet. So at the end of the day, I think that's something that we can easily overlook, but we should recognize as something that is quite a good accomplishment.

The other area, and I'll just take this one myself. The other area of course, is the regulatory front. The Department of Education did release some regulations following the negotiated rule making sessions that they ran in the spring. The department did publish regulations on about eight of the 17 or 18 areas that were subject to the negotiated rule making. Those regulations will take effect next July 1st. We've got a couple of questions about prison education. That's when those new regulations take effect. Not too much to report other than that.

The big uncertainty about regulation right now is Title IX. Now, the administration has been quietly sending signals that they would like to have these regulations published in final form in the spring. The goal would clearly be to have them take effect in the fall. Remember, Title IX is not covered by the master calendar, so they don't have to have these published by November if they're to take effect in the following July. They can put Title IX regulations in place in 60 or even 30 days if they want to. Now having said that, that is an incredibly ambitious goal by the administration given that they'd received over 200,000 comments and they have to review and show that they have considered every one of those comments. And then of course, once the Department of Education finishes its work, the information, the regulatory package has to be cleared by the Office of Management and Budget and the White House. So there is a long road ahead for the Department of Education.

Do they get it finished in the spring? They clearly would like to. It's a huge undertaking. There's not much for us to do, but to wait and see. But I think that will be big news that we'll be seeing on the regulatory front sometime over the coming calendar year.

Jon, the election outcome I think is another big story, not just for higher education, but for the American political system of course. Your thoughts on the election now that we're roughly six weeks out from election day. How's it going to change things? What do you think the biggest surprises were?

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, no, I mean in a lot of ways the election is still going right here in Washington, DC. I think this is one of those things that certainly we spend a lot of time talking about because the elections did not go the way anyone expected. I should point out, as I often do, especially to Sarah, that I did predict that the Democrats would gain one seat in the Senate. So I was 100 percent accurate on that one. I want my credit for that.

But sticking with the Senate for a little bit, Senate Democrats retain control, got a slightly larger margin, certainly not filibuster proof or anything like that. It looks like it's going to be relatively the same. For higher ed, the thing that's most interesting in the Senate is that there's been a lot of moving chairs as chairs and ranking of the committees. And in particular the health education Labor and Pensions Committee, which drafts education policy, will have a new chair and a new ranking member in Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont as Chair and Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana as ranking member. That's actually a very positive development in a lot of ways.

Losing Senator Murray, who's now taking over to chair the appropriations committee, could have gone a lot of different ways. Bernie Sanders recently gave an interview where he said, "I have a lot of big ambitious priorities, but I realize as chair of the committee, I need to work in small ways on bipartisan things. Find wins we can advance." And he has a really good partner in that in Senator Cassidy. Senator Cassidy has put a lot of bipartisan proposals forward. They've identified some common issues that they both would like to work on, particularly around mental health and health professions pipelines, getting more students into health professions coursework and through into the field. So there are some really positive signs there.

It's great we have those positive signs in the Senate because the House is a whole different kettle of fish. I think everyone knows that there was an expectation that there would be significant Republican gains in the House. Those did not materialize. Republicans will be coming in with 222 seats. This was the weakest showing in a midterm for the opposition party to a sitting president. Really back to the post 9/11 George W. Bush midterm, I think there was some thought among Republicans that they would have a big enough majority that some of the tensions you're now beginning to see about how their caucus will be led in organized could be papered over with numbers. With only a very narrow margin, those splits are coming to the forum, particularly around who will be Speaker of the House.

Kevin McCarthy is the clear front runner, but he needs no more than four people opposing his bid. Right now there are five members of the Republican Party in the House who have said, "We will absolutely not vote for him." He does not have the votes as it stands. He has proposed a couple different things to deal with that. One of that is he's talking about having a public floor vote for the speaker, an attempt essentially to shame people who might vote against him into voting on the party line. We haven't done that in a hundred years. That will be a very high-risk strategy. It might work. It might also expose him to a series of very humiliating public votes.

You've begun to see that moderates among the House Republicans are pushing back against the hardliner resistance. I thought this was funny, Terry. There's a group of people who are very supportive of Kevin McCarthy. They're organizing around the idea that Kevin McCarthy's the only person they will vote for. They handed out buttons in support of that that said OK, meaning Only Kevin. And then it was pointed out that as a slogan for a leadership position saying, "OK as your candidate maybe, maybe not the most rousing endorsement." So that is a really problematic sort of thing in terms of Republicans getting into power and establishing their agenda.

It's also worth noting one of the other things Kevin McCarthy has done which has a real impact on policymaking is he has said that they will not fill any of the competitive or the contested chairs positions of the committees until after the speaker is determined. So that means at this point, a number of committees, they don't know who the chairs and subcommittee chairs will be. This is particularly important for higher education, because one of those contested committees is the Education Workforce Committee. Virginia Foxx would be entering her fourth term. She needed a waiver to run to be the chair again. She did get that waiver, which was somewhat of a surprise. Kevin McCarthy had said earlier that he would not grant any waivers to anyone in part to appeal to a broader base of their membership. She did get that waiver. After getting that waiver, Representative Wahlberg said that he would actually challenge her for that role. He's been out speaking publicly about what his agenda would be. We won't know until after January 3rd at the earliest who will be the chair of that committee.

That might seem like minutia, Washington, DC minutia. But it's really meaningful. If you don't know who the chair is, you also don't know who the staff will be because the chairs pick their staffs. You have a number of staffers who are working for these committees who may not be in those positions. You also don't know who's going to set the agenda. What are you going to look at? What hearings will you hold? Where will you devote your resources and time and attention? This is setting Republicans back as they seize the gavel back in control of the House in the first time in a couple cycles already behind before they've even begun. It is very problematic to what they want to do with their agenda. So a lot going on there, I think the speculation about the speaker or what that might play out to. Obviously, Kevin McCarthy remains the odds on favorite to take that role, but a lot up in the air and definitely not the way Republicans want to start.

Terry Hartle: Yeah, I think a couple of thoughts, Jon, just to add on to what you've said. First, I've noticed that in the Senate, higher education itself doesn't seem to be a big agenda item. It might be affected by some of the agenda items that Chairman Sanders and Ranking Member Cassidy want to do like mental health, but we're not hearing Chairman Sanders say, "We're going to reauthorize the Higher Education Act" for example. In fact, he's not talking about higher education much at all.

In the House, there have been some conversations about higher education, but they've been conversations that would be highly critical or political. It's clear that if Virginia Foxx chairs what will be called the Education and Workforce Committee, that she will look very carefully into the loan forgiveness activities of the Biden administration. She's given a couple of speeches in which she has said she's going to be looking very carefully into free speech issues on college and university campuses. So I think we can look at that and say there might well be an agenda here focused on investigations, but we don't see an agenda necessarily heavily focused on, "I would like to enact legislation to do A, B, C, and D."

Second thing I would say is exactly what you've said, and this is something that we appreciate because we deal with these folks all the time. But usually November and December, early January, is when new chairman or chairwomen of the committees are organizing. They're setting out their agenda, they're hiring their staff, they're assigning portfolios. That isn't going on in a significant number of committees because of the leadership uncertainty. Now, the third thing I would say is that if you can't organize to govern the House, actually governing the House is going to be a much tougher challenge.

If you think back a couple of years ago, Nancy Pelosi ended up, I think, Jon, with a five-seat margin in the house. They had a comparatively seamless transition to the next Congress. There wasn't a great deal of doubt about who was going to be in charge and who would play what roles, and things just fell into place as they usually do. But with the Republicans having a four-seat margin, it's a much tougher challenge to get all their people lined up going in the same direction. And of course, one of the reasons it's tougher is because the Republicans had such a disheartening result in the election given what they were looking forward to.

Okay, three disappointments for the year, Jon. One, free community college. Any thoughts on that? We've already talked briefly on it, but what do you see there?

Jon Fansmith: No, I mean, I think you hit it earlier, Terry. We have not heard from the administration certainly the drive and the attention to that that we saw when they came into office. Bernie Sanders' obviously a huge proponent of free college generally and free community college as well. There may be more sort of noise around it. But the idea that we're going to see substantial progress towards this, at least in this Congress, seems pretty farfetched.

Terry Hartle: Right. And the second disappointment, double Pell is now on the slow track. The good news is we may well continue to see significant increases year over year, but not as fast as we would've wanted. And the third thing, Sarah, the DACA. DACA has been something you and I have devoted countless hours to really over the last six or seven years. And the fact of the matter is we're not making much progress.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. I will say for next year, Terry, we will have a Supreme Court case that's going to hear about the legality of DACA. I would just say that advocates, I think, are already organizing to try to figure out what to do with the Republican controlled House if there is going to be any opening for some relief for DACA and our dreamers.

Terry Hartle: Yeah. And let's switch to the coming year. Sarah, you started with the court, so let's stick with that. DACA is one thing that could possibly end up before the Supreme Court in the coming year, although unlike the other things that we'll mention, it's not as far along and we don't have oral arguments scheduled. We've had oral arguments on the Supreme Court's case, looking at race in college and university admissions particularly Harvard and the University of North Carolina. That's one that we don't expect to see a decision on until the end of June or early July. But that will certainly be one of the most controversial decisions, whatever they decide to come out of this court.

And Jon, as you and I have talked about, debt forgiveness is now on the agenda. We now have a date for oral arguments. We don't have, of course, a date for when we'll have a decision. That could be May, June, even July on that one as well, which sort of freezes the loan forgiveness, loan repayment issues in the position it's been in for the last two plus years. So next year will be potentially a very big year for higher education in the Supreme Court.

Sarah, one of the things that we didn't talk about is, China is likely to be on the agenda in the coming year in an even bigger way than it's been on the agenda in the last two years. The House of representative's thinking about a new committee focused on China. You want to talk about that?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. So Terry, one of the things that Leader McCarthy has announced and that the Republican caucus is an agreement on is creating a new Select Committee on China in the House. And as you know, a select committee actually draws from the existing committees. And so we expect, for instance, education and labor to be represented on that select committee. They're expected to have some hearings. For higher education, they want to look specifically at foreign funding to U.S. institutions of higher education and again, some of those research security provisions. And so we will see that as a big focus, I think, in the House next year.

Terry Hartle: Okay. Jon, we recently saw the Government Accountability Office issue a report about the financial aid award letters that colleges and universities send to prospective students, telling them how they can finance their post-secondary education. Very highly critical of practices by colleges and universities, essentially saying that the information isn't always clear and oftentimes is not as accurate as it should be. In essence, these are marketing documents at many institutions, not clear consumer information. I wonder what your thoughts are on that and whether that might be an area where we might see some action.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, two points about that. The first is that this is a very damning report. For one thing, they used documents provided by nearly 200 institutions. And those 200 institutions were statistically representative of American higher education. So this was not sort of a quicker, informal you sometimes say. They used 10 criteria to evaluate those eight offer letters. They didn't find any institutions that were doing all 10. Now, some of these we can argue are relatively minor. If you call it an award letter or an offer letter or a financial aid notification letter. They would want you to say it's an offer or not use the term award letter. Is that so important? Probably not. But the fact that large numbers, large percentages of institutions weren't telling students what their net price was, weren't telling them the different items that they would be expected to cover as part of the cost of attendance, those are serious, serious concerns.

And that leads to the second point, which is one of the things about this report was it very specifically called on Congress to legislate in this area. They want legislation because they're seeing institutions not regulating themselves in the way that we think they should be doing. And I know, Terry, you have been involved in some efforts. This has been something we at ACE along with our colleagues at the Student Financial Aid Administrators Association, other groups have been working on for a while. I think this report calls a lot of attention to it. Do you want to talk just for a minute about some of the work you're doing here?

Terry Hartle: Yeah. We've got a voluntary effort that we are organizing. It involves National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, and ACE. The effort is actually chaired by Peter McPherson, the former president of APLU. We are developing a list of criteria or principles that we think institutions ought to agree to voluntarily adopt in their financial aid award letters. I think this is a case where swift and meaningful action by colleges and universities might be a way to avoid a one-size-fits-all federal form being imposed on everyone from community colleges to major research universities. This is not necessarily hard. One of the things that the GAO concluded was that not all schools were calling loans loans. This does seem to be a particularly egregious mistake on behalf of institutions.

So we've been working with NASFA that's been focused on this for quite a bit of time. We're working with about 10 other associations to see if we can agree on a common set of principles and definitions that we would recommend institutions use. And we'll be putting a lot of time and effort into that into the year ahead.

I think the other big issue for next year that I will just hit on once again, we will see some more regulations coming out of the Department of Education. I don't think we're going to see the Department of Education launch too many new rule making sessions. They still have a lot of regulations that they're trying to process from the last two negotiated rule making sessions. But the big regulation we'll be watching for is if anything comes out on Title IX and sexual assault.

So I think that pretty well covers the full array of things that we're seeing going on right now, the things that are going to happen in the next 10 days or so, the transition particularly in the house from a Democratic-controlled chamber to a Republican-controlled chamber, lays out some of the highlights of the last year, some of the low lights, as well as identify some of the things that we think are going to be very much on the agenda in the next six months or so.

I should caution that the first few months of a new Congress are always chaotic because a new Congress, even if it's still controlled by the same party that was controlling the last one, always thinks that they can get an awful lot of stuff done. They'll come in January with a huge agenda, lots of things that they say they'll want to get done and will be bouncing back and forth and all around in circles trying to figure out what issues they are going to settle on.

Now by about Memorial Day, we'll start to have an idea for what their priorities really will be. But I would just caution the folks that are listening in with us that we're going to have a great deal of controversy and confusion in the first couple of months of next year, and I think it will be amplified because of the uncertainty about political control in the House of Representatives.

Jon, we've got a few minutes left. Have any questions come into the chat room that you would like to tee up for Sarah, me and you?

Jon Fansmith: Well, I appreciate your enthusiasm, Terry, but we are actually running long as we speak. And I would point out to people, your points are about what to look for in the coming year are well taken. We will be doing another one of these public Policy Pop-Ups actually on January 24th. So a good place to reset, think about when we have a sense of where Congress may have settled after all the dust of the early leadership races and committee chairs. We did not have enough time to get to all the questions we got. We had a number of wonderful questions. I apologize to all of you for not being able to do that. Obviously, we had a lot to talk about. And again, I encourage you to come back in the new year. But before you do, thank you so much for joining us today. Enjoy your holiday season and we'll look for you in the New year.

Terry Hartle: Thank you everybody.

Sarah Spreitzer: As always, you can check out earlier episodes and subscribe to 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 Well, there, please take a short survey to let us know how we're doing. You can also email us at to give us suggestions on upcoming shows and guests. And finally, a very big thank you to the producers who helped pull this podcast together, Laurie Arnston, Audrey Hamilton, Malcolm Moore, Anthony Trueheart, Rebecca Morris, Jack Nicholson, and Fatma Ngom. They do an incredible job making this happen and making Jon, Mushtaq, and I sound as good as possible. Finally, thank you so much to all of you 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.

Listen and Subscribe

Apple PodcastsSpotify  

Stitcher Google Play Music

Amazon Music 


Subscribe to HENA

Sign up to receive Higher Education & National Affairs, ACE's weekly email newsletter featuring newly released episodes of dotEDU.

ACE's email opt-in form uses iframes. If you do not see the form, please check your tracking or privacy settings.​​​​​

​See all episodes​

​​Connect ​With Us

​Tweet suggestions, links, and questions to @ACEducation or email