What the election results mean for higher education

Tuesday’s midterm elections are likely to split government in Washington, signaling increased scrutiny of student debt relief, Title IX and racial justice efforts. As of 12 p.m. Wednesday, Republicans were favored to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives and possibly win the U.S. Senate.

Control of the Senate, the smallest it has been for Democrats since 2021, remained unclear as vote counting continued Tuesday night. Even if Democrats manage to hold onto the floor, it’s unlikely that any major senior bills will gain legislative momentum because Republicans are on track in the House. The Higher Education Act, which expired in 2013, seems likely to languish for a few more years.

However, expect other types of activities. Much of that may come from U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-North Carolina and likely new chairman of the House Education Committee.

Foxx has shown a clear interest in investigating Biden’s debt relief plan, recently calling for an oversight hearing with the Education Department. The plan offers one-time forgiveness of $10,000 in student debt for all borrowers earning less than $125,000 a year, and up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients. A federal court temporarily halted the rollout in October, but the Board of Education has continued to accept applications from borrowers seeking relief.

Foxx presented his party’s vision for higher education reform at a September event hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. Regarding debt forgiveness, he said, “We’re looking at ways to stop it.”

Republicans have traditionally been skeptical of federal efforts to crack down on for-profit colleges and open up broad opportunities for debt forgiveness. For now, Biden’s education department can move forward with implementing its new borrower protection rules, which aim to make it easier for students who say they were defrauded by a college to get loan relief, and propose rules for paid work. the goal is to ensure that students participating in career education programs find work and repay their loans after graduation.

While House Republicans can’t unilaterally stop these processes, they can hold hearings and send letters to the department to stir opposition.

Title IX could also become more of a wedge issue in the next Congress as the Biden administration plans to finalize revised regulations interpreting the federal Gender Equality Act and how it applies to campus sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

The Board of Education has proposed protecting sexual orientation and gender identity under Title IX by expanding legal protections to transgender students, a move that has drawn the ire of many conservatives. House Republicans introduced legislation last month that would limit classes on gender and sexuality for children, suggesting that LGBTQ issues in education are high on lawmakers’ priority list.

Racial equity in education is another topic to watch. In the past two years, many red state legislatures have passed laws restricting the teaching of race and sex. Their success in Tuesday’s election could force some lawmakers to double down on the strategy.

Federal action on the issue is not unprecedented: President Trump signed an executive order in 2020 that banned some types of diversity training for all federal grant recipients. This category included many colleges. Biden rescinded the order on his first day in office, but the language of the order has found its way into the laws of many states.

Individual competitions

In both the federal and state elections, of the three candidates who campaigned to criticize higher education, two won the election, while one race was too close to declare.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has targeted the state’s colleges and universities as ideological echo chambers, won re-election in a landslide, cementing his status as the primary challenger to former President Donald J. Trump should he decide to return to the presidency. in two years. DeSantis’ victory also gives him more time to make his mark on the state’s public college system, including through new policies. (Florida-based investigative reporter Jason Garcia reported this year that DeSantis was not trying to push his most aggressive policies on top publications. A new term could give him another chance to beat them out.)

Anxiety about DeSantis’ impact on public colleges has been a hallmark of his tenure — as has opposition to it. Academics are among those who have launched a legal challenge to the governor’s “Stop WOKE Act,” which limits how instructors can teach about topics such as race and gender. Defending against the challenge, the state made the controversial statement that classroom speech is no different than government speech — a glaring denial of academic freedom rights.

DeSantis during his victory speech on Tuesday declared: “Florida is where the revival goes to die.”

JD Vance, the Republican candidate for the Senate seat in Ohio, also prevailed. Vance, 2016 bestselling author A Hillbilly Elegy, has been particularly aggressive in its rhetoric against higher education. He has declared that “universities do not pursue knowledge and truth” but “fraud and falsehood” and has adopted the Richard Nixon quote: “Professors are the enemy.”

Another yet-to-be-named race was Arizona’s gubernatorial race, where Republican candidate Kari Lake ran ahead of Democrat Katie Hobbs. Lake had publicly targeted Arizona State University and its president, Michael Crow, in a dispute over televised interviews with candidates, involving Arizona State-owned Arizona PBS. He promised that if elected, he would “clean up” the state of Arizona.

Meanwhile, a candidate who took a decidedly more pro-choice stance won: Michelle Lujan Grisham, the Democratic governor of New Mexico who campaigned on her record on college affordability programs, won re-election in a landslide.

Voting patterns and ballot initiatives

The college has increasingly emerged as a dividing line in national politics. Complete analyzes of voter data were not available Tuesday night, but one poll showed that white college-educated voters made up a larger share of the electorate than in the last midterm election — 40 percent in 2022, compared to 31 percent in 2018. Most voters in this group have voted Democratic in recent elections.

Exit survey data as well showed that young voters favored the Democrats by a roughly 28-point margin.

College students don’t typically fare well in midterm elections, and their turnout wasn’t immediately clear Tuesday. The video showed students Michigan, Arizonaand other states facing long lines to vote — reigniting the debate over closing campus polls and policies that make it harder for students to vote.

Initiatives on abortion, the top issue for many young voters, came up too close in California, Kentucky and Montana. Voters in both Vermont and Michigan approved measures enshrining access to abortion in their state constitutions.

The highest-profile ballot initiative with a direct impact this cycle was in Arizona, where the initiative would allow undocumented students who graduate from Arizona high schools to receive in-state tuition at public colleges. Proposition 308, which was too close to being introduced Wednesday, could affect more than 3,600 students.

Currently, undocumented students must pay out-of-state tuition that is up to three times higher. Undocumented students do not receive federal financial aid and often come from low-income families, which limits their ability to pay for college. Arizona voters banned undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition in 2006. Twenty states allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition; Counting Arizona, six states have blocked it.

In neighboring New Mexico, voters were poised to approve a public education bond referendum that would issue $216 million in bonds to improve public colleges, special schools and tribal schools.

It was not yet clear whether California had approved the Los Angeles Community College District’s $5.3 billion bond request or Pasadena City College’s $565 million request, both of which would pay for campus infrastructure upgrades, among other things. Texas voters approved the Austin Community College District’s $770 million bond application that will support two new campuses.

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