Amid Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) ascending the GOP leadership ranks are reports that she is angling to serve atop the House Committee on Education and Labor in the next session of Congress.
With Stefanik, the four-term congresswoman from upstate New York, securing the No. 3 position within House Republican leadership last week, she has reportedly said she would only hold the position for one term before seeking the top post on the House Education and Labor Committee, according to Politico.
Stefanik’s commitment to her Replublican colleagues to only hold a leadership position for one term before transitioning to education committee chair — or ranking member — was part of her effort to lock up support as former GOP Conference Chair Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) was formally voted out of her leadership position last week. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), the current ranking member on the committee, is term-limited. Her departure from the role at the end of the current congressional session could clear the way for Stefanik to run for the position next Congress, which will begin in January of 2023.
Stefanik has served on the committee since taking office in 2015, and currently sits on the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Investment. Chairing the full committee is reportedly a “longtime priority” for Stefanik.
While it's still only speculation whether Stefanik will hold the top Republican post on the education committee come next session, it's worth exploring her background and history as a lawmaker to glean whatever higher education implications could come from her potential leadership.
Stefanik authored and has twice introduced legislation that would have provided Pell Grant recipients with increased flexibility. The bill called for allowing students to use the grants for summer classes — a provision that was ultimately included in a 2017 federal spending bill — and would have increased the maximum Pell Grant award by 50%.
“As the first member of my immediate family to graduate from college, making higher education more affordable and more accessible is a top priority of mine,” she stated in a release introducing the bill, also noting that the legislation was crafted following higher education roundtables she participated in throughout her district.
She has acknowledged the Pell Grant as the “cornerstone of the federal government’s commitment to providing access and opportunity to all students” and has supported extending Pell Grant eligibility to high school students who are dually enrolled at a higher education institution.
In promoting her bill to establish a pilot program allowing low-income high school students enrolled in college courses to access the Pell Grant, Stefanik noted that “access to higher education is far too often reserved for those whose parents can afford to pay for it.”
“Additionally, completion rates are often directly tied to income status,” she said. “I’m hopeful that this bipartisan legislation will show students of every income level that college is a worthy and attainable goal.”
As the Perkins Loan program was coming to an end in 2017, Stefanik drafted a bill along with Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) that had more than 200 co-sponsors and called for extending the loan program two additional years, with Stefanik warning that a half million students would lose access to federal aid if the program expired.
Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, Stefanik introduced a bill that would have suspended payments and interest through Sept. 30, 2020 for those with Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) that are not held by the Department of Education (ED). While payment and interest accrual was paused for individuals who hold certain federally-backed student loans, those with FFEL were left out.
Borrowers who participated in the FFEL program, which ended in 2010, were not covered by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act because the loans were not held by the department. NASFAA previously called on Congress to provide payment relief to all borrowers amid the pandemic, including those with FFEL and Perkins loans not held by ED.
The bipartisan bill was introduced last April and had nearly 30 co-sponsors, but never advanced. It did, however, underscore Stefanik’s willingness to work with lawmakers on the other side of the aisle, including progressives such as Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), a cosponsor on that measure and another with Stefanik that would have provided similar borrower relief to those with federal Perkins loans.
“All students with federal student loans should have their monthly payments suspended, no matter which type of loan they have or when they borrowed the money,” Stefanik wrote in a Twitter post. “Our bipartisan bill is a major step towards achieving parity and will deliver much-needed relief.”
In recent years, Stefanik has focused on limiting the Chinese government’s involvement in American colleges and universities, introducing the End College Chinese Communist Partnerships Act, which would block any higher education institution from receiving institutional federal funding if it has a contractual partnership with any entity owned or controlled by the Chinese government.
Much like the Republican party’s stance on higher education in general, Stefanik has touted career and technical education options as alternatives to a traditional four-year college degree.
Stefanik represents a more moderate New York district north of Albany that former President Barack Obama won in 2008 and 2012, before former President Donald Trump carried the district in 2016 and 2020. Part of Stefanik’s pledge to serve in the leadership position only through the 2022 election is to assuage some of the most conservative House lawmakers about her relatively moderate voting record, Politico reported.
Should Stefanik fill the top post on the education committee in the 118th Congress, she could look to steer through a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) and include Republican priorities in the legislation.
In 2015 when she first entered Congress and was appointed to the education committee, Stefanik said reauthorizing the HEA was a top priority and said “addressing student financing and loans” would be a key component of an HEA rewrite.
“I hope we include financial literacy, encouraging and incentivizing students to know more about loans that they’re taking out,” Stefanik said at the time.
In the years since, Stefanik’s higher education talking points have focused on equipping the next generation of workers with the skills to be successful in the modern economy.
“The education I received truly changed the trajectory of my life and opened the door to new opportunities,” she said in an interview. “Equipping students with the skills to excel in today’s dynamic economy will increasingly require some level of postsecondary education. As I work with my colleagues to update the Higher Education Act, ensuring higher education remains a pathway to opportunity is a top priority.”
Publication Date: 5/18/2021