On January 20, 2021, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., stood on the western side of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, and recited the oath of office to become the 46th president of the United States. A few weeks prior, newly elected and re-elected legislators were sworn in, and the 117th Congress began its work.
Several of President Biden’s first executive orders addressed issues related to higher education and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. One executive order granted further reprieve for student loan repayment until the end of September 2021. Another executive order directed the acting secretary of education and the acting secretary of health and human services to provide further guidance to institutions of higher learning on safely reopening for in-person learning.
Student loan relief and Title IX enforcement are also likely to be at issue: Before the November election, President Biden committed to exploring options to make college more affordable, or even free, while also forgiving a portion of existing student debt. He is also planning to roll back the Trump administration’s Title IX policies.
At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, elected officials in Congress are exploring measures to optimize the federal government’s role in working with postsecondary education institutions. Last month, Representative Greg Murphy (R-N.C.), in a floor speech and a related op-ed published in the Washington Examiner, called attention to administrative spending in higher education and its impact on the student debt crisis. Also in December, Congress unanimously passed legislation introduced by Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Representative Alma Adams (D-N.C.), the HBCU PARTNERS Act, which will strengthen partnerships between federal agencies and the country’s more than 100 historically black colleges and universities.
It is too early to tell whether Congress will seek to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, last updated in 2008, to address serious problems in the accreditation system that hinder institutional governance. A growing bipartisan consensus is emerging that substantive accreditation reform is necessary to lower costs and create greater accountability to taxpayers for student outcomes. Click here to view ACTA’s resources for trustees on accreditation as well as our policy guidance.