One of the legacies of the Obama administration is that the federal government is much more involved in higher education than it was a decade ago, both in terms of money and regulations, Terry Hartle, senior vice president, division of government and public affairs for the American Council on Education, said during NACE’s Public Policy Forum held in March at Georgetown University.
“Changes in public policy, changes in political control of the executive branch and the legislative branch will have an impact on colleges and universities,” Hartle said. “It’s hard to project [what is going to happen] because [the Trump] administration has been anything but predictable, and it doesn’t seem likely that they will get more predictable going forward.”
Among the vulnerabilities of colleges and universities that could affect campuses and students, Hartle cited immigration and Deferred Action Against Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the Obama-era initiative that allows dreamers to work and study without fear of being deported.
But, along with these issues, the administration has a great deal on its plate. According to President Trump, his five priorities are:
- Repealing Obamacare and, presumably, replacing it with a new healthcare plan.
- Enacting immigration reform and building a wall on the border with Mexico.
- Implementing tax cuts or tax reform.
- Developing an infrastructure package to rebuild America’s bridges and roads.
- Providing regulatory relief by reducing some of the regulations, particularly those related to health, the environment, and education.
“There are three other things the president and Congress are going to have to deal with, whether they want to or not,” Hartle added. “One of the things, of course, are nominations. The president has to appoint a fair number of people to run the executive branch. The president will have to nominate them, and the Senate will have to review them and, presumably, confirm them.”
The second thing the president has started to talk about is the federal budget, Hartle says.
“This is a multifaceted issue,” he explains. “The federal budget involves finishing funding the government for Fiscal Year 2017… [and] it involves funding the federal government for 2018, the fiscal year that will start on October 1.”
Hartle adds that the final item—the debt ceiling—might be the biggest of all. As he explained would happen, on March 15, the federal government hit the debt ceiling and exhausted its ability to borrow money. Because a good amount of tax revenue comes in in March and April, the government will “move money around in accounts like somebody juggling their checkbooks to stay one step ahead of the creditors.”
“We won’t really run out of the ability to borrow money until sometime in the vicinity of August or September,” Hartle noted. “But by then, we will have to increase the debt ceiling. When Congress has had to do this in the past, it’s been controversial.
“[There are] eight things on the horizon for this coming year. Even if you are a very effective, smooth-running operation, that would be a huge amount of things to do. That would be a huge amount of things to get done in your first two years. The administration is going to face a lot of challenges making that happen.”
The administration has already faced challenges to its plans for immigration. Hartle noted that at the end of January, the White House leaked four draft executive orders dealing with this issue. One of those immigration orders—the so-called travel ban—had been written in the White House, which did not consult the agencies that had to implement it.
“Therefore, it was a very chaotic and controversial rollout,” Hartle said.
Hartle expects the revised executive order to be “legally bulletproof.”
“[They will] come up with something that the courts can't step in and block, and I'm sure this one has been exhaustively researched by the agencies that will be responsible for implementing its provisions,” Hartle said. “That would include the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, and the Attorney General.”
Meanwhile, Hartle said that there are about 750,000 to 800,000 people in the DACA system. About a third of them, he added, are taking courses at colleges and universities.
“All of your institutions will have DACA students,” Hartle said. “You may or may not know who the DACA students are on campus. All of your campuses will have other students who are not in DACA. They may be undocumented and not in DACA because they didn't want to register they were ineligible. The concerns on all campuses about this are very high.”
Hartle explained that there's a fight about DACA going on in the White House among two different factions: One says DACA as issued by President Obama is illegal and we should not treat the people in DACA differently than the way we treat any other illegal immigrants, while the other says that DACA as issued by President Obama is illegal, but there are human and political issues that need to receive careful consideration.
“Note that both of those views start with the presumption that DACA is illegal as issued,” Hartle pointed out. “The question is, ‘What are they going to do about it?’ We have been told that nothing is imminent on DACA. We don't expect anything to happen in the short term.”