First Reactions: Higher Ed Responds to ED Under Secretary Announcement

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter

In swift response to the White House’s recent nomination of James Kvaal as Department of Education (ED) under secretary, the higher education community has largely praised the announcement.

Kvaal currently serves as president of The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS) and previously served under the Obama administration as the deputy domestic policy adviser, focusing on economic opportunity, which included work on higher education initiatives.

During Kvaal’s White House tenure, he helped write the first gainful employment regulation, focused on college affordability, degree completions, and support for community college programming.

NASFAA President Justin Draeger said that Kvaal is a respected partner in the financial aid profession and a strong advocate for students.

“James recognizes the vital importance of financial aid administrators in opening doors of educational opportunity for students, and has spoken at multiple NASFAA events, including our annual conference,” Draeger said. “We look forward to working with him on college access and success issues, and congratulate him on his nomination.”

Ted Mitchel, president of the American Council on Education (ACE) and a previous under secretary of education in the Obama administration, said Kvaal “brings a wealth of expertise and depth of passion” to the office.

“He is an innovative thinker, a deep listener, and a collaborative decision-maker,” Mitchell said. “In all of his work, he has demonstrated a heartfelt commitment to ensuring that higher education is accessible to all individuals, and has worked well with the field to enable all students to succeed.”

The higher education community has largely praised Kvaal’s nomination.

“In particular, it's encouraging to see a nomination of someone who will put the interests of students from marginalized backgrounds and student loan borrowers first,” said Kyle Southern, Young Invincibles (YI) policy and advocacy director for higher education and workforce. “He is also an excellent choice to set a vision for rebuilding the Department's role protecting students (especially on borrower defense and gainful employment regulations) from exploitative practices that have targeted those same student populations in the past."

Jesse O’Connell, strategy director at the Lumina Foundation, said Kvaal’s higher education expertise, in tandem with his familiarity in the federal policy making apparatus, will make him an asset to the office.

“With priorities like investing in Pell Grants and advancing a state-federal partnership on the agenda, his comprehensive knowledge on these topics is reassuring,” O’Connell said. “Today’s students — 37% of whom are over the age of 25 and 31% of whom are below the federal poverty line — will certainly benefit from having him in this crucial public service role.”

Here are some further reactions from the higher education sector in response to Kvaal’s appointment:

As industry leaders welcome Kvaal’s nomination to join ED, members of the community are beginning to suss out the top priorities the department will begin to tackle as vacant positions receive appointments. One lingering question is where the Biden administration will land on potential student debt forgiveness.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) recently announced that with Republican cooperation, the chamber is set to “quickly” confirm Miguel Cardona, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead ED.

Kvaal would also need Senate approval and would likely not be confirmed until after Cardona.

Stay Tuned to Today’s News for more details on the incoming staffing and policies from Biden’s Department of Education team.


Publication Date: 2/23/2021

Robert W | 2/26/2021 8:53:31 AM

I admit I cringged when I saw the infamous term, "gainful employment regulation writer" associated with Mr. Kvaal's credits. I will err on the side of giving the guy a chance to see what he learned from this and what he can do now. Hopefully we are not headed back down the path to the burdensom regulation heavy era of the Artie Duncan years.

Bob Walker
Tupelo, MS

James C | 2/23/2021 10:16:46 AM

We should be excited he wrote the burdensome and nonsensical GE rules and regulations?

Jeff A | 2/23/2021 9:48:28 AM

You can not enact a GE rule as it has been done before and claim it protects students when it has only applied to what would now be barely 5% of students enrolled in HE programs. This is due to the priority on one sector and meeting "n" thresholds. Focus on expanding transparency and outcomes data by program for ALL in the College Scorecard!

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