How Will the 2018 Election Results Affect College Access and Success?

November 8, 2018
election day photo.jpg

By Carrie Warick, Director of Policy and Advocacy

The 2018 election results are in, and there is a lot of change coming to the relationships NCAN members have with their elected officials. Although some races are still too close to call, Democrats have taken control of the U.S. House of Representatives by gaining at least 28 seats, and there will be at least seven new U.S. senators – of both parties – due to three retirements and a minimum of four incumbents losing their races. Republicans retain control of the U.S. Senate. In state capitals, Democrats won seven new governorships (Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wisconsin). NCAN encourages our members to connect with their elected officials at both the state and federal level so that they know your program, the challenges your students face, and how they can enact policies to support postsecondary access and completion.

In the coming days and weeks, NCAN will offer several resources and opportunities to support this work. For starters, next week is the Thankful4Pell campaign as well as NCAN’s webinar The New Congress. NCAN members are encouraged to share both with their local partners. Longer term, NCAN will share a toolkit for discussing our policy priorities with elected officials, including a refreshed Congressional meeting guide and state policy toolkits.

What will happen next in federal and state policy related to postsecondary access and success? In summary, for the Congressional committees that oversee education policy, there will be many new faces in the House but not nearly as many in the Senate. The U.S. Department of Education's (ED's) higher education agenda is unlikely to change, but the department will have many oversight queries from the new House Democratic leaders. New House leaders will probably introduce a flurry of new legislation, but its likelihood of becoming law is uncertain because Republicans continue to control the Senate. And in states, many new governors have higher education priorities, but will they follow through?

Congress Still Must Pass 7 Appropriations Bills During the Lame Duck

The 115th Congress will return next week to a lame duck session with work to do. Knowing that Democrats will take over the House in January, this Congress must pass seven of the 12 annual appropriations bills needed to fully fund the government through September 2019. Although the education bill has already passed, this situation means the government could still experience a partial shutdown without a compromise. Particularly contentious will be funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which the president wants to include the border wall. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who could return to the Speaker role in January, said that regaining the House gives Democrats more leverage to oppose funding for the wall.

ED Will Continue Regulatory Push and Spend a Lot of Time Responding to Oversight

Betsy DeVos is expected to remain at the helm of ED and will likely continue her focus on repealing regulations as the primary work in higher education. However, she can anticipate a lot more oversight from House Democrats. Expect Democrats to seek information about the regulatory changes to gainful employment and borrower defense as well as the management of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, says Andrew Kreighbaum of Inside Higher Ed.

Divided Congress Will Lead to Much Activity, Unknown Amount of Progress

In addition to the oversight of ED’s higher education deregulatory actions, House Democrats will also dive into the President’s work on immigration, including the revocation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which courts have ruled must stay in place at least for past recipients. Expect this topic to remain at the forefront. Any immigration reform or sweeping education bills will also need to pass both a Democratic House and a Republican Senate while also receiving the President’s signature.

Although divided control of Congress may make passing legislation difficult, it is likely that House Democrats will introduce bills long pent up now that they are in the majority. Bills that address topics such as a federal free college program and major changes to student loans will likely lead the pack. These ideas have not received a lot of airtime in the past. Even if they don’t pass, introducing these bills will provide scrutiny to these ideas to help refine them.

Big Changes Coming to House Education and Workforce (Labor?) Committee

In the House, it is widely expected the current ranking member Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) will become chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee and will return the committee title to Education and Labor. Over the summer, Rep. Scott released the Aim Higher Act to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA), which gives us a preview of his priorities as chair. Current chair Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) will likely become the ranking minority member. The leadership change provides an opening for discussion of student-level higher education data transparency for use in accountability and consumer information, which Rep. Foxx had previously blocked.

There will be several changes to the Republican side of this committee as well with seven current members not returning to Congress. Reps. Dave Brat (VA), Jason Lewis (MN), and Karen Handel (GA) lost to Democrats. Three members chose to run for Senate and lost: Reps. Todd Rokita and Luke Messer, both of IN (primary losses) and Rep. Lou Barletta (PA). And Rep. Tom Garrett (VA) announced he would not run for office again.

Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee to Remain Fairly Stable

With the Republicans retaining the majority in the Senate, it is likely that the leadership of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee remains the same with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) remaining as the chair and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) staying on as the ranking member. Due to Republican caucus rules, the 116th Congress is the end of Sen. Alexander’s eligibility to chair the HELP Committee. This gives a hard deadline for his attempt to pass a reauthorized Higher Education Act.

Among other committee members, Republican Senator Hatch (UT) did not seek re-election so at least one new Republican will join the committee, but no other HELP Republicans were on the ballot this year. On the Democratic side, Sens. Baldwin (WI), Casey (PA), Kaine (VA), Murphy (CT), Sanders (I-VT), Smith (MN) and Warren (MA), all won re-election. Any shuffling will be due to committee assignment and Senate preferences. Also, depending on the number of undecided races the Republicans win, the one-seat majority on the committee could increase.

Higher Education a Talking Point in Many States

Education played a major role in several gubernatorial races, specially California, Wisconsin, and Florida and to a smaller extent in Illinois, Colorado and Michigan. Inside Higher Ed has a great overview of each of these races, as well as a nationwide calendar of the higher education proposals of each of the winning governors. Aaliyah Samuel, Director of Education for the National Governor’s Association, said during a post-election event that the upcoming issues for states in education will be: school safety, early education, college access and affordability, and the future of work.

Talk of 2020 Starts Now

With the divided result of this election – red states becoming redder and blue states deeper blue – the window for productivity before the 2020 presidential campaign kicks off will be short. Neither side is guaranteed a victory for the White House in 2020 based on this midterm election. Advocates for more equity in higher education must move quickly to put our policy priorities in front of elected officials so that progress can be made before the next election cycle is upon us.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash


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