dotEDU Live: New Rules from ED, Culture War Rhetoric Ramps Up, the End of the COVID Emergency, More


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired February 17, 2023

In this live episode, hosts Jon Fansmith and Sarah Spreitzer take audience questions on a range of topics, from the Education Department moving quickly on new regulations to the House hearing on the “crisis” in American education to ChatGPT. dotEDU will return on March 9.

Links and references from this week’s show:

House Education Committee Ready to Tackle Short-Term Pell
Inside Higher Ed | Feb. 9, 2023

ACE, Groups Call for Overhaul of the Federal Financial Aid System in Comments on Education Department’s Income-driven Repayment Plans

U.S. Department of Education Launches Review of Prohibition on Incentive Compensation for College Recruiters
Department of Education

The Culture Wars Have Come for American Higher Ed. Again.
dotEDU Episode 82

U.S. Faces Possible Default Between July and September as Deficit Rises
The Washington Post (sub. req.) | Feb. 15, 2023

Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund 2021 Annual Performance Report (PDF)
Department of Education (Feb. 2023)

OPINION: I’m a Congressman Who Codes. A.I. Freaks Me Out.
The New York Times (sub. req.) | Jan. 23, 2023


 Read this episode's transcript

Jon Fansmith: Hello and welcome to dotEDU. In this episode of our monthly interactive recording, my regular co-host Sarah Spreitzer, joins me to take questions and talk about what's happening across the world of higher ed policy. As always, we appreciate your questions and suggestions for show ideas, and you can share those with us at That's Now enjoy the conversation.


Jon Fansmith: Well hello and welcome to this month's Public Policy Pop-Up. I am your host, Jon Fansmith, and joining me today is my co-host Sarah Spreitzer, who is an assistant vice president here in ACE's government relations shop, and is also my regular co-host on ACE's dotEDU podcast. Sarah's joined Terry and I on the pop up a number of times before, and going forward with Terry's retirement, she will be my current and ongoing co-host in that role, and I'm sure Terry, wherever he is, last I heard was Amsterdam, I'm sure he's tuning into despite the time zone difference, right, Sarah?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. And Jon, I noticed that you mentioned my title, but you have a new title, don't you?

Jon Fansmith: I do. I don't know if we've talked about this on there, we talked about on the podcast, but I am now ACE senior vice president for government relations. Part of the reason Terry has retired is, well actually, not that he retired because of that, but after Terry retired, I am succeeding him in that role. So looking forward to engaging with our members and with our audience here in that new capacity, and obviously we'll have a lot of fun as we do that.

So as those of you who attend the pop up on a regular basis know we put the audio of these discussions on the dotEDU podcast a few days later, and we're going to continue to do that. But because it's now just Sarah and me, this will be more like an extended version of the opening of each podcast, a dotEDU Live. We hope to keep seeing you every month and we love the interaction and all the questions.

For our first episode of dotEDU Live, we thought we'd do an all question-and-answer episode and we've gotten some great questions from you already from through the registration form. But as always, please drop any other questions you have into the chat and we'll get through as many as we can. The last few of these pop ups, I'll say, we've had a lot of questions, a lot of really good questions. We really appreciate those. Please send them forward, really informs the discussion.

Before we get to those questions today, Sarah, there's a few things happening here in DC. I think maybe the thing that's gotten the most attention, at least in our corner of the world, was the House Education and Workforce, their first substantive committee hearing. You were at that hearing in person live, right, Sarah?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yes. It was very exciting to actually be back up on Capitol Hill after three years of virtual hearings, and it was a pretty packed hearing and a long hearing. I want to say it was about three hours, but it was the first official hearing for the Committee on Education and Workforce, chaired by Virginia Foxx from North Carolina, and they covered a whole bunch of issues. The title was US Education in Crisis, and that in crisis could have been in all caps because it felt like there was some very big opinions about issues within not just post-secondary education, but it also touched on K-12 and the witnesses included Scott Pulsipher, the president of Western Governor's University, talking about post-secondary education and issues in post-secondary education.

But Jon, I really took from it that it was an overview of the topics that the committee may be touching on in this upcoming session, and the theme really was oversight, right? They talked about issues with President Biden's student loan forgiveness plan, which is obviously caught up in the courts right now. They talked about one of our perennial favorite issues, critical race theory and whether or not that's being taught in K-12 as well as colleges and universities. Endowments got a shout-out. One of the members asked whether or not schools with endowments over a billion dollars could be considered for profits. So there weren't a lot of answers to some of the questions being raised. It was more like I think setting stakes in the ground or laying out the groundwork for some of the issues that they plan to work on.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, it's interesting too because usually these hearings we're used to them being pretty narrowly focused on a topic race subject, and this really was, I mean, the witnesses were from K-12 workforce, higher ed. They really ran the gamut of all levels of education. I was struck Sarah by where they did talk about higher ed, but particularly overall from watching the hearing, a lot of things that we were seeing at the state level, these culture war issues, and particularly in relevant reference to K-12. Your point about maybe they're laying the groundwork for what we'll see going forward, it seems like it's going to be a very contentious year within the committee.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. Yeah. But Congress has been slowly starting their work. It seems like the Department of Ed is issuing notices for comment and lots of good stuff, huh, Jon?

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, I mean as slow as Congress has been going, the department's really been turbocharged, and I've talked about this in a couple other places, but we looked at the unified agenda, which is basically the Department of Education's summary of the regulatory efforts they have underway. And they have 35 items on that agenda, 24 of which are either directly related to higher education or impact higher education. So higher ed is a big area of focus for the Department of Education, and they are moving forward at a pretty aggressive pace. They're pursuing their policy goals through regulation because legislation just isn't happening.

As they move forward ACE and collaboration with the other associations, we are offering comments on these proposals. Just last Friday, there were two that have gotten a lot of attention in our world that were out for comment. We filed comments on that Friday.

The first was about income-based repayment plans. The Department of Education is taking the existing repay plan that was created during the Obama administration. For those of you not familiar, an income-based repayment plan is one of these pro programs where essentially how much you earn determines how much you pay, a percentage of your earnings minus some withholdings, is what you pay. The new reworked repay plan that the department had proposed would be by far the most generous loan repayment program ever, that repayment amount, usually it's 10% for most income driven repayment programs, they would drop it to five for undergraduate borrowers. For borrowers who have $12,000 or less in debt, they could have their debts forgiven within 10 years. There's lots of things that make it just an incredibly generous repayment program.

It's also a lot of things that we as a community have been asking for a long time at this point. Things like preventing negative amortization, so borrowers who aren't required to pay more don't see interest added to their principles so that the amount keeps growing even though they're making payments. Things like putting borrowers directly into income driven repayments so that if they are coming out of default, that they're in a system that actually accounts for their financial circumstances. So things we're very, very happy to see. Our comment letter essentially reflected that, very supportive of their proposals.

The one thing where we did raise concerns, and it's the concerns we've heard from our members, it's the concerns we've heard from other associations is we keep doing these things as piecemeal approaches and as public concern about the cost of college, public concern about how to pay for college keeps growing and growing. These piecemeal approaches, they absolutely can help, but they're not what's needed. We need a comprehensive approach to reforming a system, that really just doesn't work very well for most of the stakeholders involved. So we flag that. That got a lot of media coverage actually that aspect of it that we're calling for this reform. So an interesting component of that.

The second comment letter was on something interesting. The Department of Education put out what's called an RFI, which is a Request For Information. Essentially the department's way of saying, "Tell us how we should do something or tell us what we need to know about this." And what they wanted information on was creating a list of low-financial-value programs, essentially programs that leave students who enrolled them in bad financial circumstances. The department is open to a lot of different ways of doing that. The clear model is in gainful employment where you look at how much one has to borrow versus how much they earn and setting up a threshold or that's a bad performing program.

I will say there's a lot of concern about this. It starts with the fact that the department has very, very limited data to make some of these determinations, and then you get into the fact that a lot of the choices made in building such a system will predetermine the outcomes you see in ways that can have very misleading consequences. So we are very much in favor of increasing the transparency around program outcomes. We said that in the letter, but the proposal they put forward is just there's a lot of pieces that just aren't going to work, and we think that the overall approach has real problems. So we want to keep working with them on transparency, we want to keep working on accountability oversight of these programs, but we raised some of the concerns we have with this particular approach on that letter.

Sarah Spreitzer: So Jon, we actually got a question on specifically the low-financial-value program. Since this was an RFI or Request For Information, what's the next step? What's the next move by the Department of Education?

Jon Fansmith: So I mean, the thing about this, it's interesting that they ask, they put the RFI out, right? They are clearly looking for feedback, but ultimately, they have the authority on their own to create this list. I mean, the list fundamentally, a lot of the data they're talking about using or that they will use is already being made available publicly through the Scorecard, average borrowing, average earnings. Those are things people can find. They just haven't been compiled in one way. They haven't identified what they would say is the worst programs.

I don't think anyone doubts that the department's going to move forward in producing this list. It will look different than probably what you imagined. There's a lot of comments and feedback about how they could do different things. A lot of frankly, criticism similar to some of the critiques we brought forward, but it doesn't seem like this is something the department put out there on a whim. They weren't asking for information because they're just considering it. They're asking for information because they plan to produce a product. Put this list forward, and we will see what that looks like. But I have very little doubt we will ultimately see that list. Probably before November 1st, so it can be implemented as soon as possible.

Sarah Spreitzer: And the department just came out today with a new guidance letter on third-party servicers. Do you want to say something about that? I don't know if you've had a chance to read it yet since it was just this morning.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, there's a couple of things happening here, and this is interesting. This is particularly interesting if you are coming from a campus that has a relationship with what are called OPMs, online program managers. These are generally third-party contractors who, through a variety of different models, build out online programs for institutions, academic programs. There's been a lot of media attention on those relationships, the contracts those companies have with institutions. The growth of the use of those relationships really grown a lot. Pre-pandemic even, but of course during the pandemic, a lot of institutions trying to transition to an online environment saw a need for those services too. The department has seen some critiques about what are the motives, what are the relationships, the financial incentives around those. Again, media attention in that area has been pretty pointed.

So today they released two things. One is a request for comment. They're putting out a proposal that would essentially change how third-party servicers are defined, and don't have to go too deep into this, but third-party servicers are generally contractors institutions hire. A lot of times, overwhelmingly, these are the backend financial aid office support systems, but the department is proposing to expand that definition more broadly, really to capture any entity that does recruitment, that works with an institution on recruiting students to a program. That's intended to capture some of these OPMs. The result would be really just additional information that have to be required, that auditors of those third-party servicers would have to look for this, compliance with the department's safeguards around there. For institutions, it allows for a greater clarification when they make reports about what these relationships are. It's a transparency measure. They're trying to gather more information, and it's very much directly in response to a GAO report that said, "Frankly, we don't know that much about these relationships. We don't know. We don't have examples of contracts. We don't know how widespread they are. We don't know what the terms a lot of these are." So this is the department's way, frankly, of gathering more information. They've put it out for a 30-day comment period. We expect a lot of people will have thoughts about this.

Related to that, the department will also be hosting on March 8th and March 9th, listening sessions related to the bundled-services exception, which is the safeguards around some of these relationships and these proposed changes. But they're offering that opportunity to get that feedback. They're very earnestly interested in hearing from people about what possible impact might be. So we have that to look forward to.

They'll also be a rulemaking session on this going forward later in the fall process starting in April. I don't know exactly when the sessions themselves will kick off, but a lot happening in this space. You can tell the department 's putting a lot of attention to this issue.

But Sarah, speaking of things that are happening, things that get a lot of attention, the DREAM Act, you are our DREAM Act person. You have been following that for a while. What's happening with the DREAM Act?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, well, the DREAM Act actually, was just reintroduced in the Senate by perennial champion, Senator Dick Durbin from Illinois, and as a co-sponsor, he has Republican Lindsey Graham, who had previously supported the DREAM Act. So the DREAM Act of 2023 is not very different from the DREAM Act of 2021, or whatever the previous one was from the previous Congress. Really, it would provide protections and a pathway to citizenship for our Dreamers and those that are registered in the DACA program.

Unfortunately, Jon, I don't think it is going to advance very far unless something is done to tie it to border security or other bigger immigration issues. I think that there will likely be some hearings coming up, especially in the House, looking at some of the actions that DHS has taken and some of the issues on our southern border. And so if they move some immigration related legislation, maybe there's a chance to get the DREAM Act attached there. But unfortunately otherwise, I don't think it'll move. But we are very grateful to Senator Durbin's continuing championship of this very important issue.

Jon Fansmith: And I know a few questions have come in on the chat, but we also have some questions that were submitted in advance. The one that pops up as maybe the best way to start the Q and A period here, Sarah, is what are the biggest things that Congress might do this session that could impact colleges and universities?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. Well, Jon, from my portfolio, I would say from international students and dealing with immigration and research security, I think China is going to continue to be the issue that unites Republicans and Democrats. And given the spy balloons and the unknown objects that our military has been engaged with, I think that's just going to ramp up the pressure. I think for institutions of higher education, there's going to be continuing attention and proposals regarding transparency around foreign partnerships, especially with countries of concern, and usually those are defined as China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran.

I think for the most part, and fingers crossed, I'm very hopeful that this will not impact the vast majority of our international students. And in fact, I think the Democrats when they talk about the issue, are very conscious of the fact that there was a perceived anti-Asian bias with many of the actions that the Trump administration took around these issues. And so I'm hopeful that this will just be very focused on transparency of foreign funding, some research security provisions, looking to ensure that there isn't any intellectual property theft or conflict of interest or interference in research.

But I think that those will all be big issues that come up in this Congress, especially given the fact that the House now has a House Select Committee on China, which is very bipartisan. But what about you, Jon? What do you think will happen in your issues with Congress?

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, I mean, I might cheat a little bit here. The biggest impact on colleges and universities, I'll focus on that.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah.

Jon Fansmith: And it's one, you talked about where there's bipartisan consensus, this is one where there's strong partisan disagreement, the debt ceiling.

Sarah Spreitzer: Oh God, yeah.

Jon Fansmith: Right. Oh God, is exactly the way to put it, right? There has been so much discussion about the debt ceiling. Really, at least in terms of Congress, there's not much else that's getting anywhere near the attention. And it's not a higher ed specific issue, but on the other hand, if we do get to a default, the financial implications for government operations, for the global economy, I mean, it's hard to imagine something else Congress could do, or in this case not do that would have a more profound impact on our institutions and our students and our operations than not hitting that debt limit.

You hear a lot of things, the conversation's going back and forth. The Biden administration really started by courting who they think are winnable Republicans on this issue in the House. You've seen recently, Joe Manchin, I think yesterday said that, "Don't worry, we're not going to get close. This will all be resolved in time." I'm glad he's so confident. I'm sure he hears more things than I do. What I do here makes it a little bit harder to be confident. The Republicans, particularly in the House, came in with a very strong fiscal conservative approach. They had things they are requiring of Kevin McCarthy as part of supporting him as speaker, that involve making massive spending cuts. That's part of what they are demanding for their support. It's really hard to see an approach that makes massive spending cuts -- All on the non-defense side, right? None of this coming from defense -- that would get support from Democrats, that would get support from President Biden.

Are there ways to maybe deal with spending costs or to try and slow the growth of spending over time? Sure. We've done some of those things like sequestration. There's been things in the past, but it's really hard, at least to see right now, that both sides are anywhere close to agreement on that. And it's February time's not exactly, we're not right on the threshold, but June probably is when we'll run out of the extraordinary measures and the real hard deadline of dealing with this is going to hit. That's not that far away, especially at the pace Congress moves on these things.

Sarah Spreitzer: Well, I was smiling because Congress always thinks that there's all the time in the world, even when there's a week left before a statutory deadline. But we didn't talk about the State of the Union at all, which was last week. And obviously one of the biggest news stories to come out was President Biden getting a public agreement from Republicans that they would not cut Social Security and Medicare. And then-

Jon Fansmith: Is that how you're categorizing that exchange, Sarah?

Sarah Spreitzer: Well, how would you categorize it?

Jon Fansmith: Heated public debate. Both sides called the other one a liar during that. So I'm not really sure that that was a meeting of the minds.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, but then he said, "So we all agree we're not going to cut Social Security?"

Jon Fansmith: He said it mockingly, I think.

Sarah Spreitzer: So I think one of the things when you talk to people about the federal budget that they may not get is that there's mandatory spending and discretionary spending. And so when you talked about the fact that they're not going to cut defense spending, there was just another story today where House Republicans said, no cuts to defense. That leaves non-defense discretionary spending, which are all our programs like the Pell Grant, Work-Study, GEAR UP, TRIO. We have had a few questions about the appropriations process. And so I think that when we talk about the debt ceiling, it is tied somewhat to the appropriations process because that's where those cuts are likely going to come from, right? Or at least it's the debt ceiling conversations are going to bleed into appropriations. I mean, oh, what do you think about that? Is that correct?

Jon Fansmith: No, I mean, it's one of those ironies of this perpetual debate, which is that if you're really worried about trillions of dollars in federal debt, the only way you can address that meaningfully is through the massive entitlement programs, social Security and Medicare, where two-thirds of all federal spending goes and debt service on our existing debt, you can chop our programs down, and you can chop all the non-defense... You can trap defense down, and you're basically making a tiny dent in the problem, right? You have to do big systemic reform. And like you pointed out, there's not a lot of political appetite on either side to go after that, right? It's in fact why I think President Biden was calling that out. He knew how politically unpopular that was, and he was trying to paint that as a position of Republicans.

So we have seen this in the past, sequestration is the big threat here, that you would set caps on spending levels out over a decade. That doesn't necessarily result in cuts, but what it does is it slows the growth. It has a possibility of slowing the growth. That's a bigger problem. That's the thing where all of a sudden you start to see it. And we're still recovering from many education programs. Most of the programs we care about in student financial aid are below their high-water marks. We're going to adjust them for inflation. We're still recovering from some of these reductions that happened years ago, even as we see annual increases. So it's a challenge. I think it's a big problem, but a lot of this is semantics, right? You're not going to get rid of the national debt by cutting foreign aid. These are programs that are too small, given the grand scale of trillions of dollars in what we're talking about.

Sarah Spreitzer: We're getting rid of the National Endowment for Humanities.

Jon Fansmith: And nobody talks about that as much anymore though.

Sarah Spreitzer: I guess they don't or PBS, I mean, they're so tiny. But I was just thinking about it because I know folks are writing their appropriations requests or sending their letters up to the Hill, and I just think that they shouldn't be frustrated or there's going to be a lot of rhetoric, right? On both sides talking about these cuts. But whether or not they actually come to anything, not sure, they still have to go through the process.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, no, I think that's a great point. And would remind folks too, that making your voice heard on these things, because we're talking about things in the aggregate, Congress tends to deal in the specific programs. And the more they hear about your program and that competing of priorities, where to protect, where to increase funding, that's just as important in the current climate, maybe more important in this current climate than it is any other year. So if you are not doing so, reach out and let your members know what your priorities are.

Sarah Spreitzer: And Jon, turning from appropriations, we also got a question about short-term Pell and what's the outlook for short-term Pell becoming a reality of this Congress?

Jon Fansmith: Short-term Pell is one of those ones that's interesting because I feel like every Congress, I identify this as one area for possible bipartisan agreement, and that's because at the 30,000-foot level, both sides like the idea of expanding eligibility for Pell Grants for short-term programs. And there's a lot of really valid reasons to do that. Particularly as you look at post-secondary education really broadly past the degree level, the fact that there's lots of careers that may not necessarily require a degree, but that allow for good paying jobs, where there's high demand in the employment sector, positions going open. So there's a lot of interest in doing that. The problem and the problem we've seen over the past few years is what are safeguards look like for that? And generally, the way the two parties have chosen to look at this is Democrats say the appropriate safeguard is to prevent proprietary institutions from having access to that short-term Pell programs. Republicans very much think that regardless of institutional control type, there should be quality measures in place, but those shouldn't exclude proprietary institutions as a basis.

Can they get to common ground where there's standards and restrictions, safeguards around the money that both sides can agree to that allow the institutions they think will do a good job with it in? Maybe. It's certainly a more optimistic possibility than HEA reauthorization. But I also feel like we've been having these arguments for years and years, and the needle hasn't moved a whole lot. So probably top list of things that could happen, but likelihood of it happening, I still wouldn't say is great.

Sarah Spreitzer: Or at least a lot of bipartisan agreement, that it seems to be a good idea in theory. It's just how you implement it or how you build those guardrails.

Jon Fansmith: Right. Exactly.

Sarah Spreitzer: Maybe we'll see a bipartisan bill on that. Jon, we also had a question about the impact of HEERF funds. So we're at the end of the COVID pandemic, fingers crossed maybe. What happened to all the money that was given to our schools during the COVID pandemic?

Jon Fansmith: And I'm excited for May 11th when the national emergency ends, because then I think you can finally say without qualifying, the pandemic's over, right? Are we allowed to say that at that point?

Sarah Spreitzer: I don't know. We have a question about the end of the government emergency. We'll get to that after you justify how our institutions have spent their HEERF funding.

Jon Fansmith: I will say, I don't have to justify. So the Department of Ed actually put out a report I think two weeks ago where they use the annual report data that institutions have been filing, and I've talked about this in other places, this report and the accounts we've seen are phenomenal information about our institutions. They speak incredibly well to what institutions did. You look at all of these other stories, we tend to see about how pandemic HEERF programs might have been rife with some fraud or abuse or that they can't track where money went in some cases, or money that was intended to go certain purposes is still being held or not being spent, even in other areas of education.

It's not the case in higher ed. Higher ed, the money, we pushed it out to students. We used it on campuses, been very aggressive about using the money the way Congress intended and Department of Ed detailed this, right? 16.5 million students, I think received financial support through the HEERF money. Huge numbers of students reported being able to stay enrolled, even as we saw enrollments drop, huge numbers, especially low-income students reported they could stay enrolled because of that aid. Institutions kept staff on at full salary. Absolutely. There were institutions that struggled more. There were people who lost their jobs as part of this, but when you look at the aid that was provided and what schools did with, it's a real huge success story for higher education. Institutions have the right to puff their chest out a little bit and be proud of how they dealt with this, especially relative to some of these other programs that we've seen.

So it's all there in black and white Department of Education has, they break it out, I think by institutional category, which is helpful too. If you haven't looked at it, check it out. There will be lots more analysis of this going forward. There's still annual reports because there's still HEERF money, but by and large, certainly the early returns are really, really great. Sign for higher ed.

Sarah Spreitzer: No, and keeping those students enrolled is just such a great story. And our producers actually put a link to the report in the chat, so that's there for people to see. But we did get a question about the pandemic, the official government emergency ending on May 11th. And part of this was done because the House was actually going to pass a bill ending the emergency. And the Biden administration got ahead of it by saying, "We're actually going to end it on May 11th." And everybody was like, "Okay." And then I think that in some ways we are still trying to figure out what that means. I think some of the agencies are still working to try and figure out what that means. I mean, I know from my portfolio, there were flexibilities that were offered to international students during the pandemic, like the ability to take the majority of your courses online and still stay in compliance with the requirements for your visa, that is going to end at the end of this academic year. But I think most campuses were prepared for that, especially as they were pushed really hard to reopen for in-person classes. But I don't know what might be in the other agencies or, Jon, at the Department of Ed.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. Department of Ed, I think is probably doing a better job at this than some of the others. And some of that is because a lot of the waivers that were provided to institutions, the majority of which were tied to things like how financial aid is processed and awarded, but also around particularly online education, access to online education, things related to residency. Those can be tied to very specific program end dates or financial award year dates. So they have built in wind down periods that were written into statute about two months following the end of the declaration of national emergency or at the end of the award year following the end of the national emergency. So I think there's a little bit more clarity, a little bit more of a thoughtful process about how these might wind down.

I read Daniel's question too, and one of the things he talked about is softening of the requirements or transition allowances. And I will say that it's still very early, but one thing we've heard a lot both from the administration, from Congress is that, this has been a learning lesson in some ways. A lot of these waivers that were granted, a lot of these flexibilities that were provided, we had two and a half years in some cases to analyze what the impact of them was. And you look at things like we hear from institutions about verification of students applying for financial aid, you start to see, well, maybe some of these requirements weren't really necessary in the first place, right? Lifting them didn't cause negative consequences.

So I think we are beginning to hear a lot of interest from policy makers about maybe we should rethink some of these requirements, maybe loosen some of the restrictions on institutions that might be actually keeping them from serving their students and facilitating the awarding of financial aid.

Something to keep an eye on. Obviously the department's going to be putting out more specific guidance. If you have questions or concerns, things you're worried about for your campus, I would recommend very strongly reach out to them, not just because they'll probably give you a good answer, but also hearing those questions from them will help shape the guidance they provide to other institutions. But by and large, compared to State or some of these other areas you've identified, and Department of Ed seems to be doing a pretty good job with this.

Sarah Spreitzer: Okay. I still think that the closer we get to May 11th that the individual agencies will be pushing out updates to the guidance or reminding institutions or individuals about the change. So I think we'll have more information on this the closer we get to May 11th.

But Jon, we also got a couple questions about the impact of what's going on in state government on higher education, and not just on funding, but things like we're seeing in efforts to limit diversity, equity, and inclusion. And actually we did our podcast, I think it was last week, we talked to Nadine Farid Johnson from PEN America about some of these state efforts, and then how it's leading into the conversation on the federal level. We talked a bit about the American education in crisis hearing and the fact that some of these issues were raised. Do you have any thoughts about that and where that might play out on the federal level?

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, I mean, as I mentioned, most of the people on this popup have lots of thoughts about those, but I like the way you referenced back to that hearing on education workforce. We saw it at both levels of education, probably more fire and storm and energy around K-12 than in higher ed, but absolutely the same concerns being raised in the higher ed space. And you're seeing a growing number of these bills. We have been working with lots of our associations and with our members. We're hearing from our members all the time about this.

It's a difficult space for a national association to intervene in some ways, because there's so many different state situations and so many different state circumstances. But you can look at these as very broad patterns that are impacting higher education nationally, even if the distinct elements of them are state by state by state.

I'll say, and I think you reference this on the podcast, which I wasn't on for the interview part, but ACE and PEN America have been working to put together a resource guide for institutions for how they can speak about these issues, how they can work within their campus and within their communities, and ways to think, diffuse some of the tensions here and push back on some ways on what we think are harmful proposals we've seen at the state level. We're going to have that publicly available in just a week plus, I think a little over a week. And certainly if you care about this, and based on the number of questions we're getting, a lot of people do, I would say we hope it will be a very valuable resource for campuses. It is also not the only thing we're going to be doing. We are constantly working with other groups. We're thinking about ways to be more assistance to our members to hire ed generally. And hopefully you'll be seeing a lot more and from us in this area.

Sarah Spreitzer: And I think that we're going to see more and more of that ramping up for the next presidential election. Unfortunately, the rhetoric is going to get more and more. Do you want to say anything about, we had a question about OMB's recommended revisions to the federal race and ethnicity standards, which sounds like it's pretty in the weeds, and folks may not be aware of how that might impact higher education.

Jon Fansmith: And it's a little bit of a weedy one, it's interesting. Essentially, the Census would like to add fields for reporting race and ethnicity. They want to add North African and Oh, now I'm blanking on the other one. Do you know off the top of your head, Sarah, there are two.

Sarah Spreitzer: No, I'm sorry.

Jon Fansmith: It's fine. And I think frankly, that's the thing that as it relates institutions, because we have to report directory level information to the census about who our students are. It's also something that institutions in terms of explaining the diversity of their campuses, showing the representation of students across different communities, different groups, is something I think, at least what we've heard from members is something institutions are supportive of. Whenever you make these kinds of changes in terms of the data we have to report, there are systemic issues that are attached to that. We capture our data in certain ways. Most institutions use an outside vendor in terms of providing the systems they use to capture those data. So changes will need to be made, that may require time, expense, some difficulty in implementing it. But by and large, this is the thing that I think we're pretty supportive of. There are comments due to OMB on April 12th, I believe, and I do expect that ACE will be partnering with other hired associations to file comments. And that again, along the lines of what I just identified.

Sarah Spreitzer: So Jon, we have about five minutes left, and when we looked at the questions before, in our planning session yesterday, we talked about the question on how do we plan to deal with the shift to a Republican majority in the House of Representatives? And in your new role, as senior vice president leading our work in government relations, do you want to talk about that a bit?

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, I mean, my bold vision is to keep doing what we're doing, right?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah.

Jon Fansmith: In all seriousness, I think one of the things that is a real strength of ACE and ACE's approach, and not just in the last five years, the last 10, 15, 20 years, is that we're very honest brokers about what the higher education community sees as opportunities and challenges and risks in the policy space. And you know, see certain segments, particularly in the lobbying space, where they're very closely affiliated with one party or the other. We are not that. We work very collaboratively with Republicans, with Democrats. We joke about these partisan divides and things, but big picture, most Democrats and most Republicans care about college costs. Big picture, most Republicans and most Democrats care about accountability and oversight of institutions. They want the same opportunities for students regardless of their party fellowship. They differ on how you get to that, but that's why we're part of the conversation with them. It's an ongoing conversation. It's an ongoing effort. There are absolutely things that get put forward that we oppose strongly, but those come from Democrats, they come from Republicans, sometimes they come from Republicans and Democrats working together. There's things we absolutely support from both parties and them working collaboratively. That's not really going to change. It never really changes depending on whose in control, right?

Sarah Spreitzer: I think it's really somewhat of a shift in priorities sometimes when the party changes, but not really a shift in how we deal overall with our congressional members.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, that's really well said, Sarah.

Sarah Spreitzer: Thanks. I'm looking through the last few questions to see if we have anything. Is there anything we forgot to talk about, Jon?

Jon Fansmith: You didn't want to talk about artificial intelligence?

Sarah Spreitzer: Oh my God, I was avoiding that. Yeah. We did get one question about AI and Chatbot and its impact on higher education. And I guess my thoughts are, not sure yet, right? It's the big issue I think everybody's going to want to talk about, but I'm not sure what we're going to talk about regarding it.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, I mean, I think that may not be a bad way to talk about when you think about Congress. Congress and technology, Congress struggles with overseeing technology.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. What was the Ted Stevens quote we were talking about before?

Jon Fansmith: "The internet is not a big truck, it's a series of tubes." Wasn't that the quote describing the internet? Which is right. Pretty reflective of the general level of discourse of technology, especially new technologies in Congress. AI and people, I think probably from this audience, hear the most about ChatGPT and students using it to cheat, or it being used to replace functionary activities. For those who don't know this, it's an artificial intelligence program where you can ask it questions or give it tasks, and it generates, immediately, a response. And it has been demonstrated to be able to be used for cheating, like academic integrity concerns. The other thing though, it does really well is it demonstrates this incredible capacity of artificial intelligence where we are right now. And so I think we are struggling. Congress is struggling. Our members, academia in general is struggling with, we have this technology, it's not going away, right? We've accepted it when it comes to Google and other algorithms that power all sorts of other things in our lives.

But really understanding a little bit of what does this mean for academic integrity? Sure. How do you preserve the ability of students to learn on their own and engage and show, demonstrate their learning? But on the flip side, this technology's also not going away. How do we incorporate that? What does that do? What does that change about pedagogy, how we teach things, how we ask students to demonstrate what they know? And those are really, really big questions.

So far, I don't think Congress has really proposed any legislation. Congressman Ted Lieu has talked, he wrote a New York Times op-ed about this, which was interesting if you're curious on the subject. But I think a lot of people in the same place you are, where we started out, big picture questions, trying to get their hands around it and figure out what that looks like. With lots of immediate day-to-day applications that I think schools in particular are puzzling their way through.

Sarah Spreitzer: I mean, we handled social media as a society so well.

Jon Fansmith: Have we got that wrapped up, yet?

Sarah Spreitzer: I'm sure. ChatGPT and AI, it'll go very smoothly.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, I have no doubts.

Sarah Spreitzer: Anything else before we wrap it up?

Jon Fansmith: No. I mean, I would just say, and I started off talking this way, I don't know how many questions came in during the chat. And I don't know because I lost track. This is a really great group. We really appreciate all of you participating. This is a really informed and engaged group, and I know that we left questions out there. A lot of things, frankly, that we would like to get to that we don't really have time to as we roll up on our deadline. But if this is a format you like, let us know. We love the back and forth. We love the engagement. We'd love to keep answering these questions. It's a really good sense for us too, of what the priorities of campuses are and our colleagues. So let's keep doing this, and we appreciate you taking the time to join us today. Sarah, any final thoughts?

Sarah Spreitzer: No, just thanks everybody for participating.

Jon Fansmith: Great. Thanks everyone. Enjoy the rest of your day.

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  

StitcherGoogle 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.​​​​​

​​Connect ​With Us

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