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President Biden’s Response to Supreme Court Rulings Impacting Higher Ed

This weekly Washington Update is intended to keep members informed on Capitol Hill activities impacting the educator preparation community. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

While Congress was on recess, the Supreme Court issued two major rulings impacting higher education: affirmative action and student debt relief. The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the Biden Administration’s effort to eliminate nearly $400 billion of student loan debt was an illegal use of executive power. The Department of Education had already approved the relief for upwards of 16 million borrowers with millions of additional applicants pending.

In a statement, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in part:

“Today, the Supreme Court ruled against students and families across the country. It’s an outrage that lawsuits brought on by Republican elected officials have blocked critical student debt relief that would have been a lifeline for more than 40 million Americans—nearly 90 percent of whom make less than $75,000 a year … President Biden, Vice President Harris, and I will never stop fighting for borrowers, which is why we are using every tool available to provide them with needed relief. Earlier today, the Department of Education initiated a regulatory process to provide debt relief, so we can help the working- and middle-class borrowers who need it most.”

In response to the ruling, the Department and the White House released the details of a new income driven repayment plan, Saving on A Valuable Education (SAVE). As detailed by the Department of Education, SAVE will cut monthly payments to zero dollars for millions of low-income borrowers, save all other borrowers at least $1,000 per year, and stop runaway interest that leaves borrowers owing more than their initial loan.

Learn more about the actions taken by the Biden-Harris Administration today.

Find out more about the Saving on A Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan.

Read AACTE’s statement on the SCOTUS decision on student debt relief.

In another 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court struck down race-conscious admission programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina. Over 40 years of decisions have upheld the use of affirmative action to promote diversity, and while the decision does not technically overturn the precedents, it essentially renders them dead while not formally repealing or abolishing them.  

In a statement, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in part:

“Today’s Supreme Court decision takes our country decades backward, sharply limiting a vital tool that colleges have used to create vibrant, diverse campus communities …The Department of Education is a civil rights agency, committed to equal access and educational opportunity for all students. I want to send a message to all aspiring students, especially Black, Latino, Asian American, Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and other students from underserved communities: we see you and we need you…Our colleges and our country itself cannot thrive and compete in the 21st  century without your talent, ingenuity, perseverance, and ambition. To our higher education leaders reviewing the decision: now is not the time to lessen your commitment to campus communities that reflect the rich diversity of this nation, which enhance the college experience in myriad ways and prepare students from all walks of life to live, work, and lead our democracy together.

In response to the ruling, the Biden- Harris Administration released a call to action for colleges and universities. Specifically, President Biden is calling on colleges and universities, when selecting among qualified applicants, to give serious consideration to the adversities students have overcome, including the following:

  • the financial means of a student or their family;
  • where a student grew up and went to high school; and
  • personal experiences of hardship or discrimination, including racial discrimination, that a student may have faced.

Additionally, the Administration announced actions to support colleges and universities to ensure there are pathways for upward mobility for all students. The Administration outlined these actions:

  • Providing colleges and universities with clarity on what admissions practices and additional programs to support students remain lawful. The Department of Education and Department of Justice will provide resources to colleges and universities addressing lawful admissions practices within the next 45 days, as colleges prepare for the next application cycle. The Department of Education will also provide assistance to colleges and universities in administering programs to support students from underserved communities. 

  • Convening a National Summit on Educational Opportunity. The Department of Education will host a national summit on equal opportunity in postsecondary education next month with advocates, student leaders, college and university administrators, researchers, and state, local, and Tribal leaders to share lessons learned, innovative strategies, and develop additional resources for colleges and students to expand access to educational opportunity.

  • Releasing a report on strategies for increasing diversity and educational opportunity, including meaningful consideration of adversity. Following the Summit, the Department of Education will produce a report by this September, elevating promising admissions practices to build inclusive, diverse student bodies, including by using measures of adversity. The report will address topics including the impact of current admissions practices that may negatively affect the admissions chances of students from underserved communities; strategies to integrate measures of adversity in admissions; outreach and recruitment programs to create diverse applicant pools; strategies for retention and degree completion; and financial and other support programs to make college attainable.

  • Increasing transparency in college admissions and enrollment practices. The Administration is committed to providing transparent data with respect to admissions and enrollment. The Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics will consider ways to collect and publish more information related to college application and enrollment trends. This includes ways that information might be validly disaggregated by race and ethnicity, first-generation status, legacy status, and other measures. Information in these areas could help higher education leaders, academics and the general public address potential barriers to college recruitment, admissions, and enrollment.

  • Supporting states in analyzing data to increase access to educational opportunity for underserved communities. The Department of Education will assist states and Tribal nations in marshaling their data to improve college recruitment, admissions, and financial aid practices to devise strategies for increasing access to educational opportunity, such as partnerships to appropriately share and use education data, and direct admissions programs that proactively admit students based on factors such as academic performance and students’ geographic location — without requiring them to apply or pay an application fee. 

Read President Biden’s full remarks on the affirmative action ruling.

Read AACTE’s statement on the SCOTUS decision on affirmative action.