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The Post-Election Outlook for Higher Education

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American higher education confronts a starkly different reality today in the aftermath of an election that yielded both a Republican administration and a Congress with Republican majorities in the House and Senate.  While the full impact may take years to assess, a preliminary review suggests some results are likely in the near term, including:

  • Dramatic changes in Department of Education enforcement actions based on departmental guidance;
  • Less government support for public institutions as Republicans seek to constrain both state and federal spending;
  • Less support for the concept of free community college;
  • Substantial changes in the manner in which federal student aid is administered;
  • Added scrutiny of institutions with large endowments;
  • Greater pressure for lower tuition.

In the long term, the federal regulatory environment will stabilize, and institutions can adapt to the new environment in which they will operate.  For now, institutions facing enforcement actions based on departmental guidance should consider the likely impact of the election on enforcement actions based on departmental guidance.  A new set of policy makers will soon be ensconced at the Department of Education, and their priorities can be expected to be quite different.  Those changes in priorities will be quickly reflected in changes in guidance documents, and the revised guidance documents could either be helpful or harmful to institutions currently subject to enforcement actions.

In the near to intermediate term, colleges and universities should expect turbulent times.  For additional insights on post-election changes facing higher education, contact any member of Steptoe & Johnson’s Higher Education Team.

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