Washington Watch: AACC seeks regulatory changes from new administration

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Washington Watch is produced by the AACC office of government relations and policy analysis.

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) has joined with the American Council on Education (ACE) and other higher education groups to formally request that President-elect Joe Biden act expeditiously to alter some of the Trump administration’s regulatory and administrative actions.  

Quick moves to change previous executive branch actions are a staple of fresh administrations, and Biden’s will likely be no different. The former vice president’s moves may greatly impact community colleges and their students, as President Donald Trump implemented numerous major regulatory changes, and Congress passed no major legislation directly affecting higher education, most notably a Higher Education Act reauthorization.   

DACA remains an overriding priority

AACC’s request focuses first and foremost on reinstating the Obama administration’s Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policies. Trump has acted to eliminate this program, and it has only been sustained, in truncated form, through legal action. Biden has signaled he intends to restore DACA upon inauguration. AACC will continue to aggressively advocate for a permanent legislative solution to the Dreamer issue.

Myriad issues, including CARES Act

In the student aid area, the higher education groups are asking the U.S. Education Department (ED) to withdraw the interim final rule issued in June that limits federal CARES Act funds to Title IV-eligible students. This restriction — which is not found in the CARES Act itself — prevents undocumented and non-credit students from receiving emergency grants and creates administrative complications for both students and institutions (in part because of policy changes in this area). AACC is working to ensure that any further funding for students affected by the pandemic makes these populations eligible.

The association also is asking Biden to repeal Trump’s executive order (EO) on race and sex stereotyping. The letter states that “colleges and universities are totally opposed to race and sex stereotyping, but the EO is sweepingly overbroad and has chilled the implementation of critical diversity training programs that ensure more respectful and productive work and learning environments.” 

Among other things, the order has created confusion and uncertainly on community college campuses. AACC hopes this order is withdrawn with dispatch after Biden’s inauguration.

Community colleges are also seeking policies to facilitate foreign student enrollment. These include:

  • Withdrawing the proposed regulations that would limit an international student’s “duration of status” and create a fixed duration of admission.
  • Withdrawing the interim final rules and the proposed rule that make it harder and more expensive for individuals to receive H-1B visas.
  • Clarifying that the Optional Practical Training program remains in place as it was at the end of the Obama administration.

Seeking new policies on Title IX, gainful employment

AACC is asking ED to rethink policies in two key and controversial areas: Title IX and gainful employment. For Title IX, the request is for the department to work with all stakeholders to address aspects of the Title IX regulations that are widely viewed within higher education as “deeply problematic.” AACC has noted that the inflexibility of the regulations “undermine efforts to effectively, fairly and compassionately address the problem of campus sexual assault. In particular, the administration should eliminate the mandate for a live hearing with cross-examination, which could have a chilling effect on the willingness of survivors to come forward and raises serious concerns about retraumatization.”  

Title IX regulatory guidance (as opposed to the formal regulation promulgated by Trump) issued under the Obama administration also created implementation issues for institutions, and AACC expects to continue to be deeply engaged in the development of any new Title IX activity policies. Action to rescind the Trump regulations is expected early in Biden’s term.

Finally, AACC will support gainful employment (GE) regulations that are well-targeted, easy to administer and fair to the community college sector. GE regulations promulgated by Obama weeded out from student aid eligibility many of the lowest-performing programs in the for-profit sector, but it came at the cost of expensive, burdensome and non-productive regulation of community colleges. AACC wants to ensure that any new regulations in this area, which the incoming administration will likely pursue, more efficiently achieve their intended goals.

AACC expects to be busy in these and other areas in the coming weeks. For more information on the general political environment, see AACC’s recent webinar about the national elections’ outcomes.

About the Author

David Baime
is senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.