Higher education still has months to contend with COVID, but University of Puget Sound President Isiaah Crawford is optimistic about access, affordability and the incoming Biden-Harris administration.
Crawford says he is most encouraged by the Biden higher ed platform’s call for doubling Pell Grant funds for underrepresented students.
“I think higher education is looking forward to a Biden administration,” Crawford tells University Business. “I and other leaders feel that Pell Grants are one of the most effective ways to provide a level of choice for students to take that funding to the institution that will best meet their needs and create the best opportunity for them to have success.”
Another priority, either during the lame duck session of the outgoing Congress or early in the Biden Administration, is passing another COVID relief act for higher education.
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Colleges and universities are grappling with drops in enrollment and the increased expenses of implementing testing and other safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID.
“Many institutions across the country are in jeopardy,” Crawford says. “Some college and universities are fearful they may not be able to meet financial regulations they have to meet to be able to receive Title IV dollars.”
Crawford says he also hopes the Biden administration will act quickly to repeal Trump-era executive orders around race, free speech and immigration.
“Campuses must continue to support academic freedom and freedom of speech, but colleges and universities also have to be concerned with issues of safety and who is and who is not able to be on campus.”
He also hopes the incoming Department of Education will abandon the lawsuit against Princeton University over its admission of past inequities and discrimination.
Crawford says he also believes there is bipartisan interest in providing long-term support for students in the DACA program.
Hopes for the Higher Education Act
The renewal of the Higher Education Act may depend on who controls the senate, a factor that won’t be decided until the Georgia runoff elections on Jan. 5.
Crawford says he and other higher ed leaders are looking for action that would offer more flexibility on issues such as accreditation, affordability and college completions.
“It’s unclear how much progress a divided government might make,” Crawford says. “But we would be able to continue to make sure we’re offering good experiences for students with a bit less regulatory burden.”
Crawford would also like to see the FAFSA application process simplified to enable more students to seek financial aid, particularly because the COVID pandemic has caused a drop in enrollment of first-generation students this school year. First-generation applications also appear to be down for the 2020-21 school year.
“The disruption to the traditional college setting has had a disparate impact on those students,” Crawford says. “Any way we can help students recognize the opportunities they have to pursue their education would be very helpful. I think the Biden administration would look to help us do that.”
Expanding access is also a critical step in higher ed’s efforts to work with business leaders to train students to meet evolving regional workforce needs. The federal government can back the initiatives by supporting public-private partnerships, he says.
“We’re looking to bring different types of academic programs forward that will meet needs of the community in high-demand areas such a healthcare, health sciences, technology and computer science,” Crawford says. “We are cognizant of the important role we must play as a sector that prepares the workforce for today and for tomorrow.”