The New Congress and Higher Ed

Donald Trump shockingly won the presidency as the GOP maintained its grip on Congress.

November 8, 2016
 

Republicans maintained control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate in Tuesday’s election as Donald Trump was elected president -- shocking Democrats who expected to win the presidency if not the upper chamber of Congress as well.

However, leaders of both parties have said that a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act will be a top priority in the next Congress and will provide an opportunity to tackle a host of policy issues affecting postsecondary education. Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Patty Murray of Washington -- the senior Republican and Democrat, respectively, on the Senate education committee -- will both return to the upper chamber after Murray easily won her re-election bid.

A number of higher ed issues would be on the committee’s agenda, including so-called risk-sharing proposals that have gained bipartisan support in both chambers. Risk sharing -- also frequently referred to as “skin in the game” measures -- would entail holding colleges and universities accountable for outcomes like graduates’ ability to repay their student loan debt.

In other notable Senate election outcomes, Florida voters returned Republican Marco Rubio to the upper chamber after his failed presidential primary campaign. On the presidential campaign trail, Rubio called for an overhaul of the “cartel of existing colleges and universities.” He has been a strong supporter of alternatives to traditional higher education and in particular of the for-profit college sector, going back to his days as Speaker of the House in Florida. He’s also been a key backer of bipartisan proposals for outcome-based accreditation models.

In Wisconsin, Republican incumbent Ron Johnson won re-election against former Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat. Johnson was criticized by many in higher education during the campaign for comments he made about the value of university instructors, suggesting they could be replaced effectively by online video lectures. Documentarian Ken Burns, whose series The Civil War Johnson cited as an alternative to in-person instruction, was among those to push back on the claim.

In the House, conservative North Carolina Republican Virginia Foxx is widely expected to become chairwoman of the Education and Workforce committee, replacing the retiring John Kline of Minnesota.

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