NASFAA Wraps Up Leadership Symposium With Session Detailing What to Watch for in Washington

By Owen Daugherty, NASFAA Staff Reporter

NASFAA's 2021 Leadership Symposium concluded its weeks of training sessions and webinars Tuesday with an "inside the beltway" overview detailing what colleges and universities should expect in the coming year from Congress, the Department of Education (ED), and the Biden administration.

NASFAA President and CEO Justin Draeger was joined by Vice President of Policy and Federal Relations Megan Coval to outline the department's regulatory agenda, such as increased attention to institutional accountability, the likely return of gainful employment and borrower defense in some form, and a focus on transparency and disclosure.

On the congressional front, the potential for additional federal coronavirus relief aid for institutions was front and center as Draeger covered the latest movement on the legislation, which passed the House over the weekend on a party-line vote and will likely move through the Senate in the coming weeks through a process called budget reconciliation.

Draeger also touched on the likelihood of President Joe Biden's higher education priorities getting accomplished, including widespread student debt forgiveness, free tuition at community colleges, and doubling of the Pell Grant.

Coval detailed the record period of time without a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), speaking to the chances of an HEA package passing through Congress this session and how much higher education has been impacted by the ongoing pandemic.

"When you think about the fact that we are in the middle of this pandemic and we know that it will fundamentally and probably permanently change higher education ... we don't fully know what those ways are yet, so it may be beneficial to wait another year to reauthorize the HEA," she said.

Coval also pointed to NASFAA's increased focus on state-level advocacy work, noting the increase in postsecondary legislation enacted at the state level before the onset of the pandemic.

"We have decided to make it a strategic goal of ours, and the big reason is that states are getting more and more engaged and we want to be at the forefront," she said, highlighting NASFAA's State Advocacy Toolkit and the various resources it encompasses.

Draeger and Coval were followed by Scott Jaschik, editor and co-founder of Inside Higher Ed, who touched on the most pressing issues facing the higher education sector, with virtually all of them impacted in some way by the coronavirus.

The onset of the pandemic demonstrated "the ability of colleges to do things very, very quickly."

"I know that's not colleges' reputation or their norm. But think about it — in a matter of weeks, colleges shifted to remote everything and sent students home and totally set up a new way of teaching," Jaschik said. 

He added that while several rounds of federal aid amid the pandemic have helped institutions of higher education, the money will fall far short of making up the difference for what schools have lost in revenue the past year.

Jaschik also previewed the issues that he expects higher education will face in the coming years, including enrollment trends, the potential decline of international students, and how pending legal battles could impact admissions.

"Sorry I didn't give you any fun ones," he said. "These are tough issues schools are going to have to deal with."


Publication Date: 3/3/2021

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