Monday, November 26, 2012

What to Expect in FA for the Next Term

Now that the elections are over, what does the future hold for our sector of higher education? 

The results of the Presidential election are well-known, but what happened with the Senate and House? In the Senate, 6 Democrats, 3 Republicans, and 1 Independent retired. There were 7 Democrats and 3 Republicans elected, so that brings the total count to 53 Democrats, 45 Republicans, and 2 Independents (both of which will caucus with the Democrats). In the House, 14 Democrats retired and 11 Republicans retired. New members elected were 43 Democrats and 36 Republicans, which brings the count (as of last week) to 195 Democrats, 233 Republicans, and 7 undecided.

In the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, Democrat Tom Harkin (who's a huge supporter of Gainful Employment and the destruction of our sector) remains the chairman of the committee. The ranking Republican member is Lamar Alexander, who's a big supporter of lessening regulations (such as Gainful Employment), so there may be some clashes in this committee in the next couple of years.

In the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Republican John Kline remains chairman. Also on the committee is Republican Virginia Foxx. Both Kline and Foxx have voted repeatedly against anything relating to Gainful Employment, including a bill that was to de-fund the Department of Education from enforcing GE. Unfortunately, that bill died when it hit the Senate.

What's the President's agenda in education for the next four years? 1.) wants to cut the rate of tuition increases by half. This seems to be more of an issue for (believe it or not) public schools. 2.) pell grant support is going to continue. Some want to eliminate the pell or at least reduce it, but he wants to keep it at nearly all costs. 3.) continue to support community and public colleges as being the places for students to attend, so he's willing to dump more money in their systems to assist with that, as well as reward non-profit organizations for assisting in that goal.

What's the Department of Education's agenda for the next four years? 1.) Secretary Duncan wants to stay on. He does not support our sector and hasn't tried to hide his dislike of us (just like Sen. Harkin). 2.) continued pursuit of Gainful Employment. Just because they were shut down once doesn't mean they aren't going to try again. The stalling of the Department on the court ruling was to push it passed the election to see how to continue. Now that they know, they will continue it. 3.) continued enforcement actions with assistance from other agencies such as Department of Justice and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 3.) begin looking at the "value" of the education that the student is receiving. There is no word yet as to how that will be defined, but there will be pressure on all schools as to making sure the students receive a "valuable" education. 4.) more rules in the areas of fraud, teacher preparatory programs, academic progress, and accounting for federal funds. 

What education legislation is on the agenda? 1.) Elementary and Secondary Education Act due for reauthorization. 2.) Individuals with Disabilities Education Act due for reauthorization. 3.) Workforce Investment Act due for reauthorization. 4.) and most importantly the Higher Education Act due for reauthorization. 

What other hot topic items will we be dealing with? 1.) veterans education programs, 2.) FY 2014 pell grant shortfall, 3.) federal budget, 4.) students' levels of indebtedness, 5.) reasonable and affordable student loan payments, 6.) increased regulations and enforcement by new entities (such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau). 

So what should we expect? As SNL put it: "Four more years!... of gridlock!" The House is favorable to our sector, but the Senate, President, and Dep of Ed are not. The House will continue to try to assist, but will be vote down. The Senate will continue to hinder, but get vote down. The way around the Senate and House gridlock (which we've seen already, and should expect more of) are two ways: Presidential Executive Orders and Dep of Ed's regulations. Congress will continue to propose legislation, but they will be hindered by the lack of money. I've been told to expect the war between proposed legislation and the lack of funds to actually enable it, but that doesn't mean nothing will get through.

Only two more years until midterm elections! Who knows what'll change by then!

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