Federal Relations

By Cynthia Littlefield, Vice President for Federal Relations, AJCU

The Potential Impact of the Mid-Term Election on Higher Education

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The races leading up to the November 6 mid-term elections continue to be volatile for many who are running for the House and Senate. On the Senate side, Democrats would need to keep 26 seats and pick up one or two more in order to take control; a change in leadership thus seems unlikely. In the House of Representatives, Democrats would need to pick up 23 seats to take control. A number of issues are at stake, including many that could impact higher education policy.

Immigration is a critical issue for the country. When President Obama initiated the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program in 2012, he created an important protection for students who are attending college, have graduated, or might be working in the armed forces but are still undocumented. President Trump’s proposal to eliminate DACA last year heightened concerns for students and families alike. Should a DACA student get arrested for even a traffic offense, he/she will be deported back to his/her country of origin.

The Dream Act (which would help protect undocumented individuals) may be considered again, should Democrats take control of the House. But no matter which party wins control next month, there is still the threat of a veto unless the legislation includes a $25 billion request by the President for a wall between Mexico and the United States.

As for federal student aid funding, what would happen should the Republicans retain control of one or both chambers? The FY19 Labor, H&HS and Education appropriations bill did realize a $100 increase on Pell grants and level-funded the federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) and Federal Work Study (FWS) programs, while also giving an increase to TRIO. This was done through a successful bipartisan effort in both chambers.

There is more of a defined difference between the two parties in the House of Representatives where the PROSPER Act, introduced by Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, has been pushed by the Republican majority. Approved by a party-line vote in 2017, no efforts were made to work on PROSPER in a bipartisan manner. As a result, there are $15 billion in cuts and eliminations proposed to critical student aid programs.

The Aim Higher Act, introduced by Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, is the opposite of the PROSPER Act in that it preserves critical student aid programs, including campus-based aid initiatives.

It is good news that Republican members are focusing on eliminating regulations that are burdensome for colleges and universities through the PROSPER Act. Next year, could be a particularly busy one for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) because the Senate has yet to introduce their bipartisan bill.

If one chamber is controlled by one party, and the second chamber is controlled by another party, do those differences of control encourage working together, or does nothing get accomplished because there is a new element of gridlock? Does the President finally work with the other party to achieve resolution of key issues, such as immigration? Critical matters are at stake and will need awareness of the Common Good by both parties if we are to resolve them. Then there are the powerful questions of the moment that affect this election. For example, will the #MeToo movement or reaction over Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation spark more women to vote in this election?

We hope for a bipartisan approach regardless of which party is in control and we hope that support for federal student aid programs will continue from both parties on Capitol Hill. Millions of students are dependent upon these results.