ACE2018: Federal Relations Update

March 14, 2018

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By Philip Wilkinson

ACE’s Terry Hartle updated ACE2018 attendees on the current state of the relationship between the federal government and the higher education community on Monday.

Hartle began with an overview of the current public policy landscape. He reviewed the successes that President Trump can claim, including the passage of the tax bill; adding new rules and regulations to the Affordable Care Act in lieu of not being able to successfully repeal it entirely; having 12 federal district court judges confirmed (in the past 50 years, this is the most confirmed federal court judges that any president has had passed in a single year); the diminished fighting force and threat of ISIS; and the final passage of a budget deal.

However, Hartle was quick to point out that these successes have come at great costs, including an angry and frustrated electorate, a declining public trust in America’s institutions (including higher education), chaos and confusion in the White House and the executive branch, and uncertainty about the goals or objectives of the Trump administration among our global allies.

In 2017, we saw the number of regulations concerning higher education vastly reduced, Hartle noted. Institutions, however, should be prepared for new regulations to be announced soon concerning Title IX and sexual assault, as well as for regulations that could redefine the relationship between student loan borrowers and their lenders.

Hartle outlined further issues and trends that changed the higher education landscape in the past year. The tax reform bill taxing private institutional endowments set an unwelcome precedent. And the well-documented fight over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is currently stalled–the true impact of which on the United States will not be known for a number of years as Hartle equated the efforts to scrap DACA protections as putting a big “not welcome” sign on our embassies and consulates across the world.

Also in 2017, the House of Representatives introduced a Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization bill that would be relatively good for private colleges, banks, and lenders, but would be remarkably bad for students. Hartle indicated that the bill‘s negative and positive implications for institutions themselves essentially canceled themselves out, but that the bill so negatively impacted students that it would prevent higher education organizations from supporting it in good conscience.

Looking forward to the remainder of 2018, Congress has yet to agree on a spending policy. While the budget was passed granting a total amount the government was able to spend in fiscal year 2018, the division of those funds among the different government agencies is still outstanding. Thus, it is unknown how much money agencies will be allocated for Fiscal Year 2018 (which started in October of 2017 and will end this October).

Hartle lastly stressed that for the remainder of 2018, political considerations will be paramount in all public policy decisions, as Republicans are fighting a public relations battle to keep control of both the House and Senate in the November elections.

Finally, Hartle concluded the session by indicating what he saw as the key challenges higher education will have to face going forward, which included: white working class voters are increasingly indifferent about higher education; an increasing uncertainty about American higher education from international students, mostly rooted in fears over safety and fear of incurring instances of racism; and the politicization of information, as studies are now showing that people are refusing to accept evidence that is contrary to their belief systems.

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