How the Biden Presidency Could Shape Graduate Education
    November 16, 2020
    Anticipated president-elect Joe Biden has the opportunity to shape future policy to positively impact graduate education and research. Upon taking office in January, the new Administration is expected to enact a flurry of executive orders in quick succession. Priorities for the president-elect include reinstating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to its full capacity; beginning an overhaul of the Trump administration’s Title IX rule; expanding relief for student loan borrowers; restoring flexibilities for international students and workers; and more.

    Most immediate on the table will be how the new administration plans to tackle the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, the Biden-Harris transition team announced a new Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board that will help shape the new administration’s agenda for combatting the coronavirus pandemic. Part of the board’s role will be developing guidance for safe re-opening of schools and testing, which may help address increasing rates of cases among college campuses.


    Facing bipartisan calls for immigration reform, Biden will likely move to reverse Trump administration regulations that threaten the international student community. It is expected that the Biden administration will undo the proposal to end duration of status; changes to the H-1B visa program; the ban on travel to the U.S. from certain majority-Muslim countries; among others. Biden is also anticipated to end restrictions placed on the DACA program. Biden’s campaign website outlines plans to protect American and foreign workers, including the increase of visas for permanent, employment-based immigration, and exempting foreign graduates of U.S. Ph.D. programs in STEM fields from any visa caps. As the pandemic continues, Biden could extend COVID-19 emergency relief to reach international students and those with DACA status, overturning regulatory guidance that the Department of Education issued for the CARES Act (P.L. 116-136) in May.


    Biden’s Title IX overhaul will likely reinstate and build upon Obama-era policies, including more ways for institutions to handle reports of sexual misconduct. Due to Secretary of Education DeVos’ framework of the current regulations, Biden would need congressional action to make significant changes quickly or face a two-year process to overhaul the rule through the regulatory system. However, litigation over the latest Title IX rule is expected to continue into 2021, and the new Administration could phase it out by putting the rule on hold. 


    The Biden-Harris transition has begun vetting candidates for Secretary of Education with plans to present finalists to the president-elect in the coming days. The rumored shortlist includes candidates with experience teaching in public schools, which Biden has noted as a priority. On November 10, the transition published the Department of Education transition team, which is made up of twenty volunteer members with experience from across the education sector.


    Congressional make-up will determine how swiftly the Biden administration is able to advance major legislation and possibly the final selection for the Secretary of the Department of Education. Democrats narrowly held onto their majority in the House, and the final make-up of the Senate will be decided after Georgia’s two run-off elections in January. Republicans would need to win only one Georgia seat to retain their majority. In contrast, Democrats would need to win both races to reach 50 seats in the Senate and then rely on Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris as the often tie-breaking vote. Without Democrats leading both chambers, the Biden administration will likely have to rely on executive power, such as rulemaking through executive orders, to avoid any partisan gridlock on high-profile topics and advance priorities. CGS provides a set of maps tracking election outcomes, as many races in the House of Representatives are still being determined. As election results develop, the map will update to reflect the changes.


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