Regardless of whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden wins the presidential election, higher ed may be facing an age of heightened accountability.
The difference could be that a Biden Administration would likely provide more funding to behind potential new regulations around gainful employment, says Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
“Colleges are going to have to be much more transparent about their performance, their outcomes, their graduation rates, their ability to get people jobs at decent wages,” Carnevale says. “If Trump wins, the transparency and the accountability is coming but there may be no money.”
A Biden administration pressure would likely renew Obama-era pressure on for-profit colleges and universities. Biden might also support a House bill that would allow Pell Grants to be used for more vocational-oriented programs.
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On the other hand, if the Senate remains under Republican control, leaders there have talked about reducing federal funding for majors that they believe are less economically viable, says Jon Bernstein, an education, technology and communications lobbyist who is president of the Bernstein Strategy Group.
There may also be momentum to reauthorize the Higher Education Act—particularly if Democrats take control of the Senate, Bernstein says.
Secretaries of education do not often stay for a second term, and Betsy DeVos has made no indications of her plans if Trump is re-elected. Biden could tap someone with higher education experience, Bernstein says.
“If you’re a Democrat, there are issues with college costs and debt relief, and issues with regulations that DeVos has rewritten,” Bernstein says. “A lot of colleges have not implemented those changes, and if Biden wins, it may be about restoring stability and trust while grappling with the double economic and public health emergency.”
A Biden administration would also be likely to undo DeVos’ revamped Title IX regulations.
Policymakers in 2021 and beyond will also have to respond to the growing acceptance of online learning by students, particularly working adults, who see it as a cheaper, more convenient alternative, Bernstein says.
A continuing pandemic and the economic fallout could preclude any sweeping education initiatives by the next administration, Bernstein says.
“If you’re constantly dealing with crisis management, there’s not much time left for a big plan,” he says. “Job one is righting the ship.”