What Happens to Higher Education Policy after the 2014 Elections?

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities has a brief looking at what changes are in store for colleges given the 2014 elections, in which the GOP swept into control across Congress, governors’ offices, and, perhaps most importantly for higher education, state houses.

But it doesn’t appear too many dramatic changes are likely to occur.

Leadership of the U.S. House isn’t going to change. Leadership of the Senate will, but while many interesting new people will take leadership positions (Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), for example, who will likely chair the Senate’s Education and Workforce Committee, is “widely viewed as the best informed and most engaged member of the GOP conference on education issues”) this is how AASCU characterizes the differences:

A full- blown reauthorization of the HEA [Higher Education Act] remains elusive and will be quite unlikely in the next two years. First, a full-scale reauthorization is a technically complex challenge, and the committee may well have other priorities, including what may be very contentious attempts at repealing or amending the Affordable Care Act and dealing with the overdue reauthorization of the Elementary Secondary Education Act/NCLB. Second, inevitable funding battles will afflict proposals for policy changes: any new initiatives will either need new money (unlikely to sit well with the GOP) or they will have to be funded through cuts to existing benefits (likely to elicit opposition from Democrats). Third, despite conciliatory post-election expressions by key political leaders indicating a desire to work together, the 2016 elections are already casting a long shadow in which the broader political dynamics vitiate against compromise and collaboration.

In short, probably not that much is going to change. There’s no need to get excited or worried.

Republicans will have control of 30 legislatures in 2015, the highest level since the 1930s. There are no big changes to impact higher education as a result of greater control of governors’ offices or state legislatures, either. As the policy brief does explain, however:

Throughout Republican-controlled state governments, lawmakers’ policy priorities will include cutting taxes, reducing spending, and reforming business regulations and public assistance programs. [This would likely mean] …a reduction in available revenues and, in turn, more limited spending—state operating support for public colleges and universities and state student aid programs could once again be in jeopardy.

Voters also approved several higher education-related ballot initiatives. Voters in Georgia approved extend the state’s property tax exemption to privately operated assets on the state’s public college and university campuses (more on that in another post). Voters in Rhode Island permitted the state to issue up to $125 million in bonds to make improvements to University of Rhode Island.

In addition, voters in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C. passed measures to approve the possession and use of marijuana.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer