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James Kvaal as Under Secretary: What to Expect

James Kvaal as Under Secretary: What to Expect

Diverse: Issues In Higher Education

Rebecca Kelliher
September 22, 2021
After months since his nomination, James Kvaal recently was confirmed as U.S. Under Secretary of Education, a position key to realizing the Biden administration’s promised postsecondary education reforms.
Higher education advocacy organizations weigh in on what Kvaal’s appointment could mean.
“Under Secretary Kvaal’s confirmation is long overdue and very welcome,” said Dr. Terry Hartle, senior vice president of government relations and public affairs at the American Council on Education, a nonprofit higher education association with members from about 1,700 institutions across the country. “This is the single most important policy position in the federal government for dealing with issues related to students, colleges, and universities.”
The Biden administration’s higher education agenda, Hartle added, is fairly comprehensive, including addressing student loan repayment, making community colleges free, expanding the Pell Grant among low-income students, and giving more money to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other minority-serving institutions.
“To do those things, you need an effective and efficient policy operation inside the Department of Education,” said Hartle. “Without the Under Secretary, you don’t have one.”
Kvaal previously served in the Department of Education and White House during the Obama administration. Most recently, he was president of The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), a nonprofit organization that conducts research and advocates for higher education affordability, accountability, and equity.
“We are excited to work with Under Secretary Kvaal and his team as they work to make college more affordable for all students, close equity gaps in college attainment, and hold low-quality colleges and programs accountable,” said Richard Kazis, interim president at TICAS.
Under the Obama administration, Kvaal worked on such areas as tightening for-profit college regulations, especially around predatory lending practices, and expanding income-based repayment programs for student loans. That deep experience in Washington is key, experts say, to Kvaal’s anticipated effectiveness at getting Biden’s higher education agenda up and running.
“The White House isn’t an unknown factor for James,” said Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, a higher education advocacy organization representing 245 public research universities, land-grant institutions, state university systems, and affiliated organizations. “That’s a huge advantage. Many of the Obama people are in the Biden administration, so those relationships from his Department of Education and White House experience all fit. Plus, he’s a smart and capable person who listens. We just wish he could have been here sooner.”

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