While the country awaits the official White House budget for education, an abundance of pre-election campaigning and post-election positioning help to project what is ahead for higher education policy. The current Democratic Party leadership has an ambitious agenda for higher education. Miguel Cardona, at the helm of the US Department of Education, brings tremendous K-12 experience to his role but sparse, if any, experience in postsecondary education. He will be relying on a fantastic group of known advocates, in particular Michelle Asha Cooper who is serving as acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education.
Here are some of the highlights of what to expect over the next four years:
- College Access: This priority is front and center for this administration, with talks of doubling the treasured Pell Grant program to a maximum of $13,000—an amount that would be a historically significant increase for low-income students.
- Community Colleges: As noted by Secretary Cardona in his confirmation remarks, this administration will be focused on community colleges. It seeks to create a more prosperous nation, with greater outcomes for America’s low- and middle- income students. This could be the beginning of a free-tuition two-year college system in the US.
- Workforce Development Continued: There will be a heavy focus on workforce training programs and innovative business-to-college partnerships. Like with TAACCCT during the Obama years, this administration will make big investments in workforce development programs in areas of need and likely will provide substantial funding for apprenticeships, other work-based learning programs, and CTE programs at community colleges, perhaps coming out of both the Departments of Education and Labor.
- Student Success Focus: We are also likely to see some new grants and spending occurring around evidence-based practices with respect to student success. Perhaps this will further expand the ed-tech boom with technology-based solutions intertwined with programmatic improvements around services, advising, and mentoring.
- Emergency Aid: Expanded opportunities and uses for emergency aid programs will likely be on the horizon to better support students with multifaceted lives who need help to address unexpected costs that arise while studying. Specifically, HEERF funding is flowing into institutions to bridge financial aid gaps and help institutions manage costs related to the pandemic.
- Tech Infrastructure: Grants and funding for big investments in technology infrastructure at community colleges and other lower-resources institutions are expected to roll out.
- MSI Focus: A strong commitment to Minority-Serving Institutions can be expected, with changes to funding inequities, infrastructure, and talent challenges. Soon after being elected President, Joe Biden met with leaders from HBCUs to solidify his commitment to remedying the challenges in this sector.
- Loan Forgiveness: Some policy changes related to student loans will likely be made, but it remains to be seen what it will look like. A great piece by Sandy Baum articulates the clear challenges with the choice of loan forgiveness as a priority, arguing that it is not the most problematic form of debt.
The staff at HEI and our affiliates are gearing up for a big grant season resulting from the Biden-Harris agenda, opportunities for collaboration with colleges and universities, as well as evaluation support and research, strategy, and technical assistance services.
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