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WCET (WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies)

Every Learner Everywhere

Van Davis, Policy and Planning Consultant, WCET
February 2021
When asked to describe higher education policy in a Biden administration, Terry Hartle, Senior Vice President at the American Council on Education, suggested, “We’ll be looking at a once-in-a-generation effort to invest in America’s students and workers.” Higher education officials and policymakers alike are expressing hope that under the Biden administration there will be new resources for higher education students and institutions, making higher education a pathway to economic and social success for a greater and more diverse number of students.
The environment in which any new or revised policies will play out is complicated, however. Historically, higher education policy would be shaped through the Higher Education Act (HEA), the massive piece of legislation that authorizes Pell grants and other federal student financial aid legislation. That legislation should be reauthorized every ten years, but reauthorization has languished for close to a decade as Congress ground to a halt amidst partisan squabbling.
With no HEA reauthorization in sight, higher education policymakers are often forced to rely upon either Department of Education regulatory authority or executive orders and other actions by the president. And although the exact nature of how higher education policy will shape up and be implemented in the Biden administration is unclear, one thing is certain—equity will be front and center in Biden’s higher education policy. As President Biden explained on January 27, 2021: “Just imagine how much more creative and innovative we’d be if this nation held the historically Black colleges and universities to the same opportunities, and minority serving institutions had the same funding and resources of public universities to compete for jobs in industries of the future.”

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