Federal Relations

By Cynthia Littlefield, Vice President for Federal Relations, AJCU

The Obama Legacy
President Barack Obama has served America with grace and professionalism during his eight-year tenure. Because of his involvement in education reform, he may be considered one of the most influential higher education presidents in history. Who better understood the nuances of our complicated system or believed strongly that higher education must play a significant part in the United States economy and global market? President Obama did.

With that understanding of higher education came a stronger commitment to Federal student aid programs. President Obama increased Pell grants by $1,000 over his tenure and his budgets reflected consistent support for campus-based aid programs. When the Perkins loan program came under threat during budget negotiations, AJCU organized a campus-based aid outreach effort to work with the Administration to save Perkins loans. Negotiations on the Hill were successful in the short term, thanks to the efforts by Senate and House Democrats. Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization will be the place to debate on these important issues in the years to come.

Under the Obama Administration, the College Scorecard was introduced; this tool helps college-bound students and their families compare potential schools based on costs, graduation rates, debt and post-college earnings. The Financial Aid Shopping Sheet was also introduced during Obama’s tenure; this is an instrument by which institutions notify students about their financial aid packages.

In spite of these accomplishments, there have been challenges for higher education over the past eight years. Higher education regulations became a major issue for institutions, but they may be recalled by the Trump Administration. Private, non-profit institutions were unfortunately thrown into the Gainful Employment Provision that was chiefly aimed at for-profit institutions; state authorization for distance education remains a huge costly complication for colleges and universities (including Jesuit institutions); and attempts to alter credit hours and accreditation have been cumbersome for administrators to implement. 

Yet President Obama brought the economy back from the great recession, and millions of jobs were created (although there is still a need for more jobs). The Affordable Care Act, which is currently under scrutiny in Congress, created insurance for 20 million Americans. These are huge accomplishments. President Obama advocated for global awareness on climate change. He also created the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program for undocumented students to stay in this country. Unfortunately, some of these important initiatives may not survive in the new Administration; for example, the recall process for the Affordable Care Act has already begun.

Through both challenges and successes, President Obama served the United States with integrity and thoughtful decision-making. He and his family were refreshing additions to the White House and Washington, D.C. His professorial ways were of comfort to a nation in pain from many years of economic distress. We will miss President Obama, and his staff who were always available and accessible. We wish President Obama well and look forward to seeing his family stay in Washington, D.C. and participating as citizens in this unique city.