Higher Ed Trends to Watch with Scott Jaschik


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired October 5, 2023

Scott Jaschik, formerly of Inside Higher Ed, joins the podcast to talk about what he sees as the top 10 leading trends shaping higher education this year and his predictions for what’s ahead. But first, the hosts dive into the chaos happening in Congress this week, as the House tries to carry on without a Speaker while facing looming shutdown. They also look at what the new gainful employment rule means for institutions and give a sneak peek at the changes ahead for the Carnegie Classifications.

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

Kevin McCarthy Ousted as House Speaker in Historic Vote
Reuters | Oct. 4, 2023

Congress Narrowly Averts Shutdown as House Democrats Help Pass Stopgap Bill
The New York Times (sub. req.) | Sept. 30, 2023

Game On, Again, for Gainful Employment
Inside Higher Ed | Sept. 27, 2023

Reflection on a Year Studying Carnegie’s Basic Classificatoin and a Look Ahead
Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education I Sept. 21, 2023 

What Voters Think of the Affirmative Action Ruling
Morning Consult | July 11, 2023

Judge Allows Grant Program for Black Female Entrepreneurs to Continue
The Washington Post (sub. req.) | Sept. 26, 2023

Students of Color Are Not Ok. Here’s How Colleges Can Support Them.
The Chronicle of Higher Education (sub. req.) | July 6, 2020

College Cost Transparency Initiative

Hundreds of Colleges Vow to Boost Transparency in Financial Aid Offers
The Hill | Sept. 27, 2023

Biden-Harris Administration Begins Discharges for 804,000 Borrowers With $39 Billion in Automatic Loan Forgiveness as a Result of Fixes to Income-Driven Repayment Plans
U.S. Department of Education | Aug. 14, 2023

Biden Administration Moves Ahead With New Plan to Cancel Student Debt
CNBC | Sept. 29, 2023

West Virginia University Makes Wide-Ranging Cuts to Academic Programs and Faculty
The Associated Press | Sept. 15, 2023

Community Colleges Face Low Enrollment, Dismal Completion Rates
PBS | Apr. 3, 2023

Hosts and Guests

 Read this episode's transcript

Jon Fansmith: Hello and welcome to dotEDU, the higher education policy podcast from the American Council on Education. I'm your host, Jon Fansmith, and a little bit later in the episode we'll be joined by Scott Jaschik, founder and former editor-in-chief, co-editor-in-chief, I believe, of Inside Higher Ed. Scott is going to join us and he's going to go through his famous top 10 list for higher education topics and give us the opportunity to converse about those a little bit and go over some of the things that he finds most captivating in the world of higher ed. And for those of you who have seen this presentation before or are familiar with it, Scott just does a wonderful job giving an overview of really the things that are top of mind for people in the higher ed world. But before we get to Scott, I am joined here by my great, wonderful, amazing, intelligent, informed, and eligible to be Speaker of the House colleagues, Mushtaq Gunja and Sarah Spreitzer. How are you both doing?

Sarah Spreitzer: I'm doing great. I wanted to let both of you know I've submitted your names for Speaker of the House, so you should be hearing. I hope that you're out there whipping the votes and you have my full support.

Jon Fansmith: I think-

Mushtaq Gunja: I hereby accept. I went first, Jon.

Jon Fansmith: And so you get it. I lost. Damn!

Mushtaq Gunja: Did you hear what Spreitzer did there? She nominated both of us? What kind of fence-sitting is that? You do one, not both. It doesn't make sense to support both of us.

Jon Fansmith: Should we ask her Sarah [inaudible 00:01:32]-

Sarah Spreitzer: I want to [inaudible 00:01:33].

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. That's right. Let's ask Sarah. Who would you vote for? You have to pick one of us. You set this up, Sarah, by the way. This is entirely on you.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. I mean, I think I painted myself into a corner, much like the House Republicans. So, I guess I'll have to see if I learn my lesson.

Mushtaq Gunja: What a segue.

Sarah Spreitzer: But both of you would be wonderful speakers.

Mushtaq Gunja: What an analogy, what a segue, what a good way for us to start talking about this so obviously. We're recording now on a Wednesday afternoon and yesterday the House had a historic vote and they voted to vacate the speakership and Speaker McCarthy is no longer... Takes? I mean, it's wild. Jon?

Jon Fansmith: It is quite truly unprecedented. This has never happened before. They have introduced a motion to vacate. It has never gone to a vote. We have never had a sitting Speaker of the House removed from that role. And I will say just personally, I have been saying since the beginning of the year, look, we knew this tension was coming. We knew the issues between the Freedom Caucus and how he would be able to govern and sort of an almost ungovernable caucus. And certainly the fact that they had pushed for this power to be able to remove him from the role was this constant threat looming over how he approached the work of the House.

I mean, honestly, I never thought we would get to the point where the motion would be put forward and he would actually be kicked out of speaker. I don't think a lot of people in D.C., I mean really right up until the vote, I don't think people believed it might happen. And if you watch the vote, I was actually struck by the fact that when they announced the final count, there was an absolute dead silence in the hall, in the chamber. And I think a lot of people were struck by the moment because, not just because it was so unexpected, but because it's so momentous and it leaves you with a really big question, which is where do we go from here?

Sarah Spreitzer: Well, and Jon, I know we're going to talk a little bit later about the continuing resolution that Congress was able to pass over the weekend to keep the government open, but we were joking around that in meetings last week. We were telling everyone that there's no hope for the government to stay open. They're not going to be able to pass a clean CR and then Speaker McCarthy gets it through. But I had told people that if we did get something done, I didn't think he would remain speaker for at least for the entire month. I thought he would be out by November.

But I was surprised at how quickly it happened and what that means for the CR that we have now is only for 45 days. How do you get anything done? Because it seems to me the Republican caucus doesn't have a plan B, right? There's no one that is the heir apparent and what we've seen for years and years and years, they always have someone that's being teed up to take on that role. And so, not only is it historic that the speaker has been removed, but not knowing who they're going to put up next is also I think a pretty big deal.

Jon Fansmith: It's not an understatement to say there's real actual chaos introduced by this vote, and I want to talk about that in a second. But the one thing I will say that I think maybe everyone underestimated was the incredibly personal nature of this. And if you listen to the statements by some of the eight Republicans who voted to remove him from office again and again and again, the things they talked about were not, was he able to manage the caucus, was he able to advance conservative priorities? It was he was a person whose word I could not trust, he was a person who betrayed agreements we had reached. The votes really focus on a level of personal animus towards the speaker that you tend to think of as being outside the plane of how these things are determined. And it ultimately got down to there's a lot of people who just did not like Kevin McCarthy, including the entire Democratic caucus in the House who voted and blocked to remove them as well.

So where do we go from here? I mean, we've said it before. This is a miserable job trying to manage this House and Speaker McCarthy's entire year has been a testament to that. He got a deal on the debt ceiling and immediately had a revolution on his right as a result of this. No one coming into this can feel confident that they will be able to manage their caucus in a way that leads to not just successful governing, right? Meeting this, we have 45 more days or as we recorded this, about 43 more days before another shutdown will occur. It's not clear who will even be speaker. They're not even going to move to nominating another speaker for another week. The clock is ticking. The path forward isn't obvious. The person who could lead it isn't obvious. I mean people may not want to hear this, but we're substantially worse off in terms of doing the business of governing at this point than we were last week and regardless of what you think of Kevin McCarthy and his policies.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah, I mean Jon, this is a miserable job, but I think it's particularly miserable right now given the 45 days that are coming. It was funny when we took the 15 votes, was it 15 for Speaker McCarthy and-

Jon Fansmith: Fifteen.

Mushtaq Gunja: But we didn't have immediately important business for the House to take up when we were going through that speaker nonsense at the beginning of the year. I mean, I'm really struck by how difficult this is going to be, how difficult potentially this is going to be. It could be that the Republicans and their caucus just sort of caves and all the demands that they had, especially the Freedom Caucus sort of had for McCarthy that made it so difficult for McCarthy to get elected in the first place, that they just decide that they're not going to require as much in terms of the motion to vacate and everything else. And they're going to allow, they're going to just loosen up their demands.

But if they keep their demands as high as they had them for Speaker McCarthy who had, as Sarah well notes, was being groomed for this had been politicking to be speaker from November 7th, 2022, right, to January 2023. I mean, he had two months to politic. None of these guys, Scalise doesn't. None of the others, Jim Jordan, I mean, they have to start now, figure out where they are on all of these very complicated ways in which they need to broker a compromise between the moderate Republicans and the House Freedom Caucus. I mean, McCarthy had two months, and could barely patch it together. These guys have to do it right away.

And they really need to do it right away because, I mean, I'm not sure what we look like in 45 days, but, I mean, we were sure, all three of us were sure we were going to shut down and we are all wrong. But man! How are we going to not shut down in 45 days? It doesn't feel to me, unless these guys really get their act together, nominate ... I guess they're scheduled to have debate for a new speaker on Tuesday with elections maybe on Wednesday. I mean, maybe they can make that happen and everything will just click into place. But I mean, I think from what I have seen over the last few days, doesn't really feel like that's likely to happen.

Jon Fansmith: Well, and we've set up a dynamic if you are and not even really in the Freedom Caucus, a small percentage of the Freedom Caucus was just given the lesson that they can depose a sitting speaker if they run contrary to their policy goals. Why would you concede? Your point about maybe you don't have to make the same concessions that Speaker McCarthy did, why would they expect anything less? If anything, they should feel empowered to expect more whereas at the same time, if you are one of those 17 Republicans who won a district that Joe Biden carried in 2020, you're looking at the only way to effectively govern is to bring Democratic votes over essentially to counter the far right end of your party.

Why would you ever support somebody as speaker who doesn't want to chart a more center right path that allows your policy goals, that allows you frankly the possibility of winning reelection. If anything, the lines are hardening in a way that makes it much more difficult. Speaker McCarthy came in flush with, they'd regained the majority. He had two months to prepare. He worked to build coalitions. He'd been preparing for that role for a while. He'd been in leadership. You're right, he was in many ways a consensus candidate, took 15 votes and every concession he could make to get them into the role. Now both sides are much more emboldened. It's going to be even harder for someone to thread that needle.

Mushtaq Gunja: Well, it seems to me then that I withdraw my candidacy for speaker. It seems too hard. Jon, I throw my full support behind you. So good luck.

Actually, you know, Sarah Spreitzer would make a good speaker. She has Midwestern values, Midwest. Looks like she can really whip some folks into shape.

Jon Fansmith: Straightforward, honest, you don't renege on your deals. I love it, Sarah.

Sarah Spreitzer: Oh, thank you. Thank you so much.

So I have a question for both of you because you guys have followed this a lot, I think more closely than I do, really the politics of everything. What does this mean for the regular business of the House for the rest of the year? I've started thinking about that. Are committees going to continue to introduce and do hearings on legislation? A lot of the committee chairs were named because of deals that Speaker McCarthy cut. What does this mean for the regular order of business of Congress beyond just keeping the federal government open? Will we see a Higher Education Reauthorization Act from Chairwoman Foxx? Is anything going to actually continue to happen within the committees, let alone will bills be able to be introduced and debated on the floor?

Jon Fansmith: So committees I think will continue to do their work if for no other reason than you have lots of members who have policy concerns and you're always looking to have your priorities addressed or at least advanced. There's nothing about this really that changes that. What this changes, this and the fact that we're in a CR and we still are nowhere clear path forward on funding the government overall. I mean, it toppled a sitting speaker to get a 45-day extension.

The idea that they're going to finalize a full year's funding, the stakes are so much higher. There's nothing that's going to happen on the floor. The entire rest of the year is going to be a series of catastrophes and showdowns and who is moving into leadership and do we get to a shutdown and where are the compromises? There's not much they can do. Floor time being what it is and the uncertainty around it. How do you say, "Well, we have a broad base set of policy priorities we want to bring to the floor and have earnest debate on in advance." It's just, chaos is real, right? There's no structure to do basic legislative business.

Mushtaq Gunja: This is too negative. We should talk about other things. So it's funny, right? So if we didn't have a speaker showdown in the CR, we probably would've spent most of this opening talking about the new gainful employment regulations that came out last week. And Jon and Sarah, I know you guys have been following this closely. Do you want to do a quick 90 seconds on what it was and what it means?

Jon Fansmith: 90 seconds is probably not sufficient to cover this in the depth that we really should, but our audience is probably pretty familiar with at least the general tenants of gainful employment. This is a regulatory provision the Department of Education has. The goal is to ensure that students who are going to programs, gainful employment programs, programs that will lead them to gainful employment, basically career-focused programs are generating a sufficient return on the investment for their students, that they provide good financial value. It started with the Obama administration. They proposed a series of rules, challenged in court, various permutations. Trump administration gutted them. Biden administration is bringing them back.

Two very simple tests to say whether these programs are returning sufficient value to students. One is a debt-to-earnings ratio. How much should students in the programs borrow versus how much are they earning after they left? And is it that a ratio where they can reasonably afford to make the payments on the loans they took out?

The other test is kind of an income threshold test. Are graduates of the program earning at least $1 more than the average high school student in their state? And I think a lot of people could agree that generally those are relatively decent indicators of the financial return on a program, especially one that's intended to have short-term career outcomes, improve short-term career outcomes, which is what gainful employment programs are. These are non-degree programs and nonprofit institutions and all programs at proprietary institutions. That's what are covered by gainful employment.

What's more interesting I think about these regulations is that they're also looking at what they're calling financial value transparency. And when they do that, they expand that to every program in higher education. So that B.A. in history at a nonprofit institution, that J.D. in a law school and a nonprofit institution, those are now all subject to the same reporting. And for the graduate programs and the certificate programs at nonprofits, you also now have to provide an acknowledgement that if your program is showing poor returns, you have to let students know we've been showing poor returns. In fact, you are entering into this program or you're enrolled in this program before we will give you financial aid towards that point, you have to recognize and acknowledge that you're taking a bit of a risk, that the data shows this is a risky program. That's very new. It's also a huge expansion of what gainful employment has been, which is again, career-focused programs. This is saying all of higher education we're subjecting to this litmus test of what's the financial term?

Now the penalties aren't there under gainful employment. If you fail to test, the program itself loses access to Title IV, no student loans, no Pell grants, nothing like that. Not true for the nonprofit programs, but an acknowledgement is intended to shape behavior. It is intended to say, "We want to help direct students do good programs and away from bad programs." It will have an impact on programs. And where we've had concerns is certainly any broad federal approach gets into unintended consequences when you start to look at things on the margins, particularly areas like social work, like certain areas of counseling or health professions, parts of the education fields where we know as a society these are critically important people, but we do not pay them very well as a society, you start to look at those programs and worry a little bit about people being dissuaded from pursuing a career that we think we need more of those people, but we know going in, they don't have the financial returns. So obviously lots of things to work for there.

This is the final rule. It has been implemented before November 1st, which is the Department of Education's deadline for having things take effect next year. So this rule will go into effect July 1st of 2024. So you will have a lot more information you'll need to report on your programs on campuses cross-country. We will have a lot more information about this as we digest it and summarize it for our members. So keep an eye on our website and we'll keep you informed as to how this is being implemented and the impacts we're seeing on campuses. I know that wasn't 90 seconds.

Sarah Spreitzer: That's okay. It is a complicated issue, but I thought folks might want to go back and look at the comments that we submitted and although it's final, we will be providing more information as the department implements it. But Mushtaq, you've been busy in your other job beyond just podcasting as executive director of the Carnegie Classifications. And we always love talking about what's happening with Carnegie. So what is happening with Carnegie?

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah. Actually all this gainful conversation is ripe because we've actually been thinking a lot about the right ways to be able to measure economic outcomes, especially for social workers and teachers and the rest. So we'll have to compare notes, Jon, but there are some exciting changes that are coming to the Carnegie Classifications I think early November. I'm not entirely sure which day we are changes that we're making to the basic classification and also to the research methodology part of the classifications. That's R1, R2 thing and we're not quite at final decision on a couple of things, but we have some stakeholders that we still need to talk to. But we're getting close, we're making good progress and we are really hoping to modernize this classification system that's been around for 50 years, has done a really good job of grouping institutions, but as our institutions have changed and are doing a whole different set of degree offerings, certificate offerings and the rest, I think it's probably time for us to catch up.

So looking forward to unveiling and having sort of a longer conversation with the two of you maybe on the podcast about the classifications going forward. So, yeah. Thanks for asking, sir.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah and I think we've had a little bit of an insight into the, I mean I don't know how many thousands of people you've now talked to at this point, how many hundreds of institutions you've met with. There is a tremendous amount of thought and work that is going into this. So you're probably underselling it a little bit, Mushtaq, both the scope of the work and I think frankly the value and thought that lies behind it. So definitely encouraging and exciting and I would love to have that conversation later on in the podcast and I think members are going to be really excited to hear what those changes are.

Speaking of things members will be excited to hear, though, we are just about to be joined by Scott Jaschik who run down his top 10 list. It's fun, it's entertaining, it's informative. Definitely encourage you to hang around for that and we'll be back right after the break.


Mushtaq Gunja: And we are back and we are back with a legend of higher ed reporting. It's a true treat to have Scott Jaschik on the podcast. Scott was the co-founder, former editor of Inside Higher Ed, where he co-led editorial operations, oversaw news content, opinions, really did it all. I mean, I don't know of anybody who covers higher ed who has sort of a broader, more wide-ranging sort of view on what's happening on our campuses, what's happening to the industry then Scott. Scott, we are so happy to have you. Thank you for joining the podcast.

Scott Jaschik: I'm really happy to be here.

Mushtaq Gunja: Scott, how long have you been a higher ed reporter? I know at least 20 years. How long have you been at this?

Scott Jaschik: So at Inside Higher Ed for the last 20 years basically, but another 18, 19 before that at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Mushtaq Gunja: So in those 40 years, 40-ish years let's say, of covering higher education, what do you think are sort of the biggest changes from 1983 to 2023?

Scott Jaschik: Well, first let me say one thing that hasn't changed is that ACE has been tremendously helpful to me and to all my colleagues and I really appreciate it because it's a great organization that you're all part of and that includes the members, too, for those who will listen in. But in terms of what's changed, the internet has changed everything. Before Inside Higher Ed was around and I began my journalism career in a time that was print only and that is dramatically different. There's not the same sense of we need to let people know right away. At the same time, that creates a lot of dangers in that to act immediately you can pass along wrong information. And so, the whole dynamic of what you are saying has changed.

In terms of issues, the main issue I would mention that's changed hugely is affirmative action. I've been writing about affirmative action since 1996 before Inside Higher Ed, and that was the Hopwood decision, which was a strong anti-affirmative action decision involved at the University of Texas. And since then, there've been multiple Supreme Court decisions up to the one that we had in June. And in June, really that was a reversal, not of the Hopwood decision, it was quite consistent with Hopwood, but it was a statement that affirmative action is illegal in admissions and that is a huge change.

Mushtaq Gunja: Scott, one of the reasons we've all loved following you for the last 20 years are your famous top 10 lists of issues presenting higher education. And Scott, I would sort of assume that affirmative action, race-conscious admissions is at the top of that list this year, is that right?

Scott Jaschik: Absolutely, it is the top issue and I don't think it's done. I mean, first you have a strong decision. Second, and this is really important, I'd say that people in higher ed to remember, in higher ed, the decision is phenomenally unpopular. People didn't like it. And I totally understand why. I can say since I'm not a journalist anymore that I didn't like it either, but it is not unpopular. It's in fact quite popular with the public, with Democrats and Republicans alike. And that's really important for people to recognize because they're going to have to deal with the public on this issue as well.

The other thing is that many issues have not been resolved. Financial aid, even with all of the information that the ed department has released, there are tons of questions and there're going to be more suits on it. I don't know that they'll go to the Supreme Court, but we still don't have a consensus exactly on what this decision did.

Jon Fansmith: And I think that's so interesting, Scott, too, because you can see that it's really both sides of this issue. There's an effort to say, "Look, this is very narrowly targeted at the consideration of race and admissions and it's about admissions and it's really actually just about extending an offer for admissions, an admissions decision," versus like you talked about where we might see a whole set of lawsuits around is this financial aid, is this funding of student groups? How broadly could that be pushed? And we're already starting to see some of that. So you've seen this for a while. Yeah, go ahead.

Scott Jaschik: Yeah, I mean, there was a decision just last week that was not even a higher ed decision on a women's entrepreneurship program for Black women that the judge totally rejected. And so, I think we're going to be seeing a lot of that.

Sarah Spreitzer: And not to mention the interest of Congress in this issue. I mean, there was a hearing last week in ed and workforce in the House about how institutions are responding to the court's decision and whether or not they are staying in line, I think, with what the Supreme Court ruled.

Scott Jaschik: Definitely, Congress is very interested, although I'm not sure Congress can do much of anything about it, but hold hearings and draw attention to the issue.

Jon Fansmith: And Scott, if affirmative action is really the top of your list, I think number two, I've had the privilege of seeing the list in advance, our listeners haven't, but number two is almost in some ways almost a 1A on that. Do you want to tee that up for us?

Scott Jaschik: Sure. I mean, legacy admissions was mentioned briefly in the Supreme Court decision, but wasn't really. There was no definitive statement on it. And legacy admissions are going to get a lot more scrutiny. A few colleges, a few elite private colleges, Wesleyan, Carleton, have eliminated legacy admissions since the decision came down.

And also someone to note, some elite colleges like MIT have never had legacy admissions or Caltech has never had it, but the rest do have it. And frankly, somewhat uncomfortable for higher ed, I think, because while people in higher ed point out correctly that we're not talking about that many people, we're talking about real people and real slots at a time that the courts have said you can't take special steps to help Black and Latino students, they are leaving alive the extra steps that many colleges take for wealthy white students.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, thank you. And I think it's been interesting because President Biden, within hours of the Supreme Court's decision in his remarks on it, put a lot of time and emphasis on legacy admissions. And you can see this in a lot of ways as well, if you are going to eliminate, which is frankly the most effective tool for ensuring the diversity of the class, well let's look at other things that are giving preferential status to applicants. And it's very easy coming from the other end of the political spectrum and say, look, this is a continuation of privilege, this is extension of generational imbalances. I think when you talk to people at schools, they tend to see a lot of different reasons for using legacy preferences and how it's weighted. And is that about building a community of people who feel connected to the institution versus possible assessment? Yeah.

Scott Jaschik: I would say to that issue, MIT last I checked had no problems with its endowment fundraising or its freshman class. Neither does Carleton or Wesleyan. And when a college does eliminate legacy admissions like Amherst College did it two years ago, there's all this like, "Oh, my gosh! What's going to happen in the next class?" But the number of legacies obviously went down, but it didn't go to zero. Amherst students still will have other Amherst students whose parents went there, but those students will truly have earned their spots. There's no other category for higher education because even athletics, it is the student's skill at athletics that gets a student in and there's nothing else like legacies in which it's not your own skill.

Sarah Spreitzer: So Scott, I have to admit I wasn't on the planning call for this podcast and I know number three on your top list of issues is minority students on campus. And there's so many different ways we could talk about that. We could talk about the threats against DEI offices and DEI programs on campus. We can talk about the change in demographics or what's going to happen to enrollment post the Supreme Court case. So I'm interested to know what you would include under minority students and the issues on our campuses.

Scott Jaschik: Well, I would include the fact that many minority students across minority groups are not happy at where they are at college. That's not to say they don't succeed in the classroom. It's not to say they don't have friends and do things that they like to do, but surveys done of the minority students find that, by and large, they are not happy. They are stuck with roommates who frequently ask them racist questions. Even some faculty will say, "Oh, I can't believe you're talking well," whatever that means. And I think it's really important for higher ed if higher ed wants more minority students -- and I believe that higher ed does want more minority students-- to recognize this because nothing's going to be more successful at getting more minority students to come to college than if those who are there do well.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, and obviously I think that that is a big priority for our institutions, right, is increasing minority students on our campuses and especially increasing them in specific fields like STEM. But I think that, for many of our institutions, they're struggling with the new state laws and regulations around limiting DEI. So do you think that there is a way around that or are you seeing any kind of best practices by institutions?

Scott Jaschik: In the states that are anti-DEI, I can't say that anyone has a best practice because what they're doing runs against the grain of what will help minority students. Good DEI offices help minority students. It's that simple. And so, I fear that, although the problems I mentioned at the beginning extend throughout the country, that we will have some states that are known for not being able to create the programs and support services for minority students while others can. That doesn't mean that people aren't trying their best and trying their absolute hardest and in many cases trying to do their absolute best very quietly because they don't want somebody to notice. But it's going to be a difference this year.

Mushtaq Gunja: Scott, one of the things we've been following, I think for predicting now for probably about a decade was the looming enrollment cliff. And I wonder if you think that we're there, we're about to be there? Is it coming? Is it going to be as bad as everybody has feared it to be? I know it's on your top 10 list. Tell us how you're thinking about the enrollment cliff.

Scott Jaschik: It's here for many institutions. It's important here to remember that institutions of higher education vary tremendously by their wealth, by their prestige, by geography, where they are, by their size, how large they are. So I'm hesitant to say that the enrollment cliff is here or not, but it's important to remember most students attend a college that admits most of the students who apply. And that's really important to remember. Most students aren't applying to Harvard or a Harvard-like institution. And at all of those places that don't have the prestige, the wealth, whatever, they are hitting the cliff and they're trying different things. But I think they are hitting the cliff right now.

Sarah Spreitzer: And in many ways, I think part of the enrollment cliff is because of the changing demographics and maybe our institutions need to do a better job reaching out to those populations that haven't traditionally been drawn to post-secondary education. So I could see how those two issues tie together.

Scott Jaschik: Absolutely they do, but then they can't do certain things nationally because of the Supreme Court ruling and they can't have certain programs in some states because they won't allow DEI offices. So that just makes all of these issues very, very difficult.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah, and certainly as students are considering where to apply, affording it is a big issue and some issue very close to my heart, federal financial aid, student financial aid continues to be a subject of pretty intense debate and interest. Where do you see that evolving?

Scott Jaschik: So, that would be my next issue on financial aid. We just had the College Cost Transparency Initiative announced--or what they're going to do announced--and that is 350 colleges announcing that they're going to aim for consistency in what they are telling students. And that seems great because no one wants to be confused in the financial aid process. And the people who are on this call today or people who are listening, well, they all know what the terms mean. They can read a letter and figure out if they're really getting enough aid, but most people in the general public don't. And some colleges have been, shall I say, confusing to many students. And so, in terms of getting 350 colleges in this, that's great, but how many colleges are there? There are about 4,000 colleges in the total in the United States, and all of them have these same questions. And so, it will continue to be an issue with financial aid.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, And I think to that initiative, which I should mention for people who may not know, AC is one of the 10 associations that is behind this effort and partnership in particular with the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. Shout out to Justin Draeger who often appears on our podcast as well.

It's important to note that that 350 is who was announced at the launch. This will be an ongoing effort to enroll more and more institutions. And I think one of the things that I really like about this approach is that it's not just do you commit to doing this? It's then send us a copy of your award letter and let's make sure that it lines up with what the principles are, what the requirements are.

So, to your point, Scott, you're not saying loans don't need to be repaid, confusing them with grant aid or saying that that's self-help, right? That there's all sorts of, right?

Scott Jaschik: Right. And on the 350 and the fact that it's expanding is great, but something like this needs to have everyone. And that's why some people are arguing that, if Congress doesn't make this a requirement, you won't have everyone. And so, that will be an interesting issue to watch.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, absolutely. And there's been legislation on this going back a decade. I think maybe Al Franken, when Al Franken was in the Senate, might've been the first actual bill introduced on the subject. It's an interesting thing, too, because anytime the federal government tells you how to do it, they're pretty defined in what they want. And that doesn't allow for some of the flexibilities we think reflect those different missions of 4,500 different schools. But the clarity part of it, luckily it seems everyone is being to coalesce around.

Sarah Spreitzer: So Scott, another one of your big issues is student debt.

Scott Jaschik: Yes.

Sarah Spreitzer: And this is a big date because student loan repayments are set to restart after three years, I believe it is, after being paused during COVID. And we're all kind of waiting to see if the Department of Ed is actually ready to process all the payments, if the borrowers are ready to start repayment. And obviously we had a summer in which we saw the Supreme Court rule that the Biden loan forgiveness program was not allowed to go through because it was created under executive authority. I mean, obviously this is going to continue to be a big issue, especially in the lead-up to the presidential election. Any predictions on what might happen?

Scott Jaschik: I don't think anything definitive will happen before the presidential election, because you mentioned the big Biden initiative was challenged in court and is no more, but it's important to remember a few things. One, the Biden administration has, in fact, forgiven a ton of debt in many of the for-profit colleges that went under, the Biden administration has eliminated that debt of those students. That's huge. And they've given every indication that they're going to go on doing so, they have a new plan which involves people's income that isn't as large as the old plan and will probably end up getting challenged in court, too.

And then, as you say, today is the day that students must repay. It's hard to think, I was trying to think about this for myself when I finished paying off my student loans way before Biden put a freeze on loan repayments, and I don't know what it would have been like if I had stopped paying. And then three years later it started up again. I'd like to think I would've done the right things and followed the directions. But that's really hard, I think, for many students to do. And so, I'm worried that we're going to see many more defaults.

Mushtaq Gunja: Can I take us on a slightly different part of the government landscape, which is state governments, budget cuts-

Scott Jaschik: You got it. Yes. Sure.

Mushtaq Gunja: ... and community colleges, maybe combining a couple of your items here, but one of the things I think we're so worried about are the cuts that appear to just keep coming from state governments to their higher ed roles, the effects that it has both at the flagship level, e.g. West Virginia, and over and over at all the community college levels? I mean, where do you see all of this heading, Scott?

Scott Jaschik: I mean, I think it's going to be a lot more cuts. These aren't the colleges that are going to go under, but these are colleges that enroll students and students are hurt. When West Virginia University's initial plan, and it's been slightly reformed, and it started, they were going to eliminate every foreign language and now they're going to let a little foreign language survive. But that's huge at a flagship university in a state because people always say, "Well, students can go to another university." If you are a West Virginia student, a good student and want to study foreign languages, you're going to go to WVU. And that is a real shame. Miami University just announced deep cuts, and again, they turn up on all the lists of public ivys and stuff like that. The cuts are hitting universities beyond those that are struggling to survive.

Community colleges are in really vulnerable situation, and community colleges vary hugely.And so, this is not true of all of them, but since the pandemic, many have lost 15% or more of their enrollment and their budgets are based on their enrollments and they lost the tuition revenue and then they also lost the state appropriations that is usually tied to enrollment.

Now, some this year, I'm seeing some slight increases in community college enrollments, but they aren't enough to make up for what was lost the past few years. And when community colleges are hurt, it's important to remember that that then means in two or three years, the four-year institutions in that state are hurt when there aren't students applying to transfer. So this is a big issue for higher education and community colleges.

Jon Fansmith: And we hear sometimes that part of the recent community college enrollment goes down is we're in a great economy, the unemployment rate is very low, and students who may be considering community college, if they can find an opportunity in the workforce, they choose to do that rather than pursue. Is that what you think it is or do you think there's other factors? I mean, 15% enrollment decline in three years is a massive drop, right?

Scott Jaschik: Yes. I mean, that is not a college having a less good admissions year one year. And I think the theory you said is one theory, but there are lots of theories that have nothing to do with the economy being well off. Right now, many are concerned about purely the reputation of many community colleges is unfairly, and let me stress, I said unfairly, a question by many people.

And there's also the question of who goes to community colleges. In many cases, these are students who would benefit hugely from a community college degree, but they can't afford to take less time off their jobs. They are working and they are supporting families, and it's really just a huge mess.

Jon Fansmith: One of the recent federal efforts that has been particularly most impactful for community colleges, likely to be most impactful for community colleges, something the Department of Education just announced their final rule of last week. So was interested to see this made your list of top 10 things because it is so new, but the gainful employment regulations. You want to tell people a little bit about what's going on there and why that makes the list?

Scott Jaschik: I mean, gainful employment, well, this version is new, but the idea of gainful employment regs is not new. It goes back to the Obama administration, and it's an effort to make sure that all colleges or for-profit colleges and some nonprofits are also covered by this, have data to show that their graduates can make their loan repayments, can afford to repay their loans, and the rules affect both sectors. And because of the way they affect different sectors, you've got the for-profits making one push, the nonprofits making another push. I suspect these rules will be in court. And it's very interesting to see how people are reacting to that principle.

In the Obama administration, there were all kinds of criticisms of the numbers. I'm not sure if we'll see that this time around, but this represents an attempt by the Obama administration to make sure that programs lead to a good career for somebody, and that's a worthy goal.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. One of the things different in this version is that one of the other tests, not just the debt-to-earnings ratio, how much you borrowed versus how much you're earning, but are you earning more than the average high school graduate in your state? And that cuts right to the quick, right? This is saying, "This is what these programs are about. Are you seeing a career boost and relative to others around you?"

So Scott, we have now reached the last of your top 10. And honestly, this is one we could spend about, I don't know, several days going over and my co-hosts are laughing, but number 10 on your list, the state of the federal government, maybe I'll just leave it there and let you serve this one up.

Scott Jaschik: So ... Go ahead.

Sarah Spreitzer: And Scott, I mean, the state of the federal government seems great because they were able to pass a CR, which all of us predicted they wouldn't. So it all seems to be going great. So interested to hear what you have to say.

Scott Jaschik: Well, I'd say it's not going great. I mean, I am happy for federal employees, certainly, and for all of you that they passed the CR, but it's a 45-day CR and I don't see a likely solution. The thing that worries me is it's such a change from earlier generations of Congress and in particular of Republicans. When I started covering higher ed, people were so proud that it was New England Republicans who created bills, who created programs and the Democrats, too. But these were truly joint efforts. And it's not that they agreed on everything, but they were not hostile to higher education. In the current environment, I see a great willingness to just say, "Who cares" about deep budget cuts. And that's really unfortunate. I don't know what we're going to see in the days ahead, whether we're going to see a new speaker, whatever, but it's worrisome for higher education that there's so many people they really can't count on in any meaningful way.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, I'm really glad you raised that, too, because I think there's two very interesting things that have happened. One is that point, it's become much more partisan of an issue how you approach. I think when all of us started doing this work, it was, as you pointed out, very bipartisan. There was a universal commitment to supporting higher education. Alongside that, the higher ed's just been much more high profile in terms of political debates, national campaigns, the fact that loan forgiveness dominated the Democratic primary process in 2020. And this process on the Republican side, you already have Governor DeSantis and former President Trump talking about accreditation of all things. This is unusual place for higher ed to be in at the same time that it's really, we're seeing the schism along partisan lines.

Scott Jaschik: Definitely. And it's not that Trump and DeSantis were debating how to make accreditation work to help colleges. They were debating, well, the opposite of that basically. And the issues that come into public attention, culture war issues and whatever. They are not the core financial aid issues that colleges depend on getting attention. And that's very worrisome.

Sarah Spreitzer: So Scott, can I ask one question before we wrap up?

Scott Jaschik: Sure.

Sarah Spreitzer: Your list of the 10 issues were all kind of downers for higher education. Is there anything positive that you would put on the list kind of looking forward in your 40 years of covering higher ed? Any hopeful news for us?

Scott Jaschik: Well, I'd say the hopeful news is something that hasn't really changed, that faculty members and institutions are still truly trying to reach students and to help students every day. And this is the famous faculty member and the many faculty members who you've never heard of. And they are working their hearts out because they are trying to do what they became professors to do, to reach students. And we should be tremendously grateful to the faculty for doing that, even as they are not necessarily well paid or appreciated by the public.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, I think that's a wonderful note to wrap on, too, because I know that we spend a lot of our time thinking about Washington and the dysfunction and the gridlock and the vitriol, and you could then go out and talk to people on the campus or see a campus or meet with students and you get a whole different sense of why we all do this work. And Scott, thank you so much for coming on. Thank you not just for those very kind words about ACE at the beginning, I think in most cases merited, but thank you for saying it, but also for all the work you've done and just really, as Mushtaq pointed out, the perspective you bring to this and what a great voice for the higher education world you've been at Inside Higher Ed and previous posting. So again, thank you for all of that and thank you for being on this podcast.

Scott Jaschik: Thank you. It's been great.

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 acenet.edu/podcast. While there, please take a short survey to let us know how we're doing. You can also email us at podcast@acenet.edu to give us suggestions on upcoming shows and guests.

And finally, a very big thank you to the producers who helped 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.

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