In State of the Union Address, Biden Calls for Restoring Education as ‘Affordable Ticket to the Middle Class’

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Senior Staff Reporter

President Joe Biden’s State of the Union Address on Tuesday night was centered on a message of “unity” and detailed the administration’s top priorities for the newly divided Congress.

The speech was heavy in recapping the administration’s accomplishments, specifically pointing to the enactment of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, which the administration said has provided an estimated 18 million students with direct financial aid since the start of 2021.

In laying out his agenda for the next year, Biden recounted how his administration was able to garner Republican support for some significant pieces of legislation that touched on policies covering a wide breadth of domestic issues like investments to infrastructure and inflationary pressures.

While the bulk of these new initiatives centered on health care and the economy, the president did offer some remarks on issues concerning higher education.

The president specifically called out a need to continue to make higher education more affordable for students and urged for investments in community colleges.

“We’re making progress by reducing student debt and increasing Pell Grants for working- and middle-class families,” Biden said. “Let’s finish the job, connect students to career opportunities starting in high school and provide two years of community college, some of the best career training in America, in addition to being a pathway to a four-year degree.”

Funding for community colleges — and making two years of community college free — has been a top education priority for the Biden White House, and the administration has continued its efforts to back legislation that would include tuition-free community college. Yet even with Democrats in control of both the White House and Congress, that policy was unable to come to fruition — and with the House now under Republican control such an outcome is incredibly unlikely.

Biden’s message throughout the speech was marked with optimism about the prospect of bipartisan cooperation.

“To my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can’t work together in this new Congress,” Biden said. “The people sent us a clear message. Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict, gets us nowhere.”

While much of Biden’s education agenda can easily be stalled in a divided Congress, the administration is still implementing a litany of regulatory changes through the negotiated rulemaking process and is also attempting to implement a student loan debt cancellation program through executive order, although those plans are currently held up by the courts. The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to hear challenges to the debt cancellation program on February 28.

In the coming months, much of the congressional negotiations are likely to focus on federal spending where Republicans, now controlling a chamber, have urged the administration to prioritize reducing the federal deficit.

In the coming months, the administration and Congress will need to sort out how they will raise the debt ceiling and how both sides of the aisle will come to an agreement on spending negotiations for fiscal year 2024, which will determine spending limits for the Department of Education (ED) and its programs.

The president is expected to unveil his budget in early March, which will formally kick off the annual budget process.


Publication Date: 2/8/2023

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