Policy roundup 2023: How state and federal legislators tackled higher ed

While Democratic leaders may be most closely associated with pushing policy partial to undocumented immigrants, expanding college access to immigrants has enjoyed bipartisan support.

Legislators at the federal and state levels this year have taken to molding higher education in the way they deem fit for future students. Some policy pushes have enjoyed bipartisan support, such as addressing hazing on college campuses. Others, however, have been more aligned across political lines, such as the push to dismantle DEI.

Here are some of the most prominent themes in higher education this year and how state and federal policymakers have acted on them.

Policy at the state level

Addressing students’ mental health

In Nevada, AB 37 authorizes the establishment of the Behavioral Health Workforce Development Center of Nevada at the University of Nevada with regional locations throughout the state. Two million dollars have been allocated to the center, EdWeek reports.

In Florida, HB 33 allows the state to join an interstate compact known as PSYPACT, allowing therapists to keep their patients even as they move out of state. This will be especially helpful for college students who pursue postsecondary opportunities away from home. Forty states are now members of PSYPACT after Florida’s signing, WAER reports.

New Jersey is taking a more proactive approach to addressing students’ mental health needs. Lt. Gov. Tahesha Way signed a law last month requiring annual training for faculty and staff to spot student signs of depression. With this policy, they can help funnel their students to the necessary support services.

Erasing hazing

Kentucky and Washington each passed their own respective laws elevating hazing to a felony. Fifteen states now have this more stringent penalty on those accused of hazing at colleges and universities.

Expanding college access for undocumented students

States this year are fostering access to higher education for undocumented students by providing in-state tuition to those who’ve grown up in a specific state but lack legal status.

Last month, Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 91, allowing low-income Mexican residents and those living below within 45 miles of the Mexico-California border to pay in-state tuition, LA Times reports. Additionally, Mass. Gov. Maura Healey signed a law allowing undocumented students in-state tuition.

While Democratic leaders may be most closely associated with pushing policy partial to undocumented immigrants, expanding college access to immigrants has enjoyed bipartisan support. Nevada’s Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo signed a law this summer allowing students granted access under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act to receive in-state tuition if they’ve lived in the state for 12 months or more, Stateline reports.

With Massachusetts’ signing, 24 states and D.C. provide in-state tuition to the states’ undocumented students, according to the Higher Ed Immigration Portal.

Lowering college costs

Thanks to Minnesota’s “North Star Promise,” policymakers have reached a deal to cover tuition costs for in-state students whose families make less than $80,000 annually. It will go into effect next academic year.

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has expanded a free-tuition community college program to Pell-eligible students 21 and older.

Pressure against DEI and LGBTQ+ directives

At least 15 states have introduced legislation attempting to inhibit the growth and continued funding of diversity, equity and inclusion programs across state institutions. Among them are Iowa, Arkansas and a failed attempt in Missouri.

However, two states this year succeeded, passing bombshell laws that virtually liquify state funding toward public college and university DEI programs. In Florida, SB 226 prohibits Florida’s public institutions from spending money on DEI initiatives using public dollars. In Texas, SB 17 restricts DEI programs altogether. The University of North Texas has since dissolved its DEI offices, FOX 4 reports.

Disbanding DEI implicates schools’ LGBTQ centers. The LGBTQ Center at University of North Florida is awaiting “regulatory guidance from the Florida Board of Governors on implementation of the new legislation, as required by law,” NBC News reports.

Other state policy is more directly stringent on LGBTQ+ students. In Texas, SB 15, signed into law in June, bars transgender college athletes from competing in sports based on the gender identity of their choosing. Dubbed the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” it’s meant to protect female athletes from unfair competition, CNN reports.

At the federal level

Protecting student outcomes

The Biden administration has largely been unable to enact any sweeping changes to student loan forgiveness insofar as the Department of Education wants to preclude further levels of insurmountable debt from accruing. In September, the administration released revitalized regulations on gainful employment, putting colleges and universities on a tighter leash regarding their graduates’ employment outcomes. The Department estimates the provisions will protect approximately 700,000 students, and about 1,700 programs will fail at least one of these metrics. Programs that do not pass are at risk of a slew of penalties.

The provisions aren’t expected to be enacted until July 2024.

Federal bills to watch out for
  • Stop Campus Hazing Act: Representatives from both sides of the aisle in Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Minnesota want to stomp out hazing across institutions nationwide. The legislation, introduced late last month, would require hazing incidents to be included in a college’s annual crime report and provide parents and students with better information about a college’s history of hazing incidents, according to a press release.
  • College Transparency Act: Three U.S. Senators, including Utah’s Mitt Romney (D), are reintroducing the bill after it stalled out last year. It would require the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to secure student data and generate postgraduate outcomes reports with the help of federal agencies. A similar bill in Ohio passed the Senate 88-1 in June.
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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