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Why did enrollment fall by almost three percent last year? Three higher education leaders break it down. Plus: What’s next for Democrats after Sinema busted their bubble on voting rights.
As progressive lawmakers and activists lobby the Biden administration to forgive student loan debt, there’s another issue in higher education worth our attention too.
Higher education enrollment fell almost three percent in the fall of 2021 following a 2.5 percent drop in the preceding fall, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released on Thursday. The total two-year decline since fall 2019 is five percent, representing 938,000 students — or the entire population of Austin, Texas. Read the report.
“Many universities increased admission standards and the cost of higher education continued to rise, while most states cut funding,” Dr. Ivory A. Toldson, national director of education innovation and research at NACCP and professor of counseling at Howard University, said. “In a sense, higher education is becoming more of an expensive and selective product and less of a path to financial success for those who have less.”
I raised Toldson’s point with a White House official, who pointed me to provisions for higher education in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. The legislation that passed the House last November and is currently on life support in the Senate increased the Pell Grant to $7,045 over the next three years. For the first time ever, thousands of undocumented students, including DACA recipients, would be eligible for federal financial aid through 2030. Build Back Better also allocates $500 million over five years to eligible states and state systems to support initiatives that increase college retention and completion rates. HBCUs, tribal colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions would receive a total of $9 billion over five years for infrastructure and research capacity building and institutional aid.
Dr. Donna Y. Ford, distinguished professor of education and human ecology at The Ohio State University, told me over email that she’s alarmed by the trend of declining college enrollment and identified four groups that need additional attention, support and advocacy: First-generation students, low-income students, out-of-state students and students of color, specifically Black and Latino.
“I believe these groups are the most vulnerable and susceptible to opting out of college due to [COVID] and other reasons,” Ford said. “They are doubly challenged. All share uncertainty and intimidation about the college experience.”
The Clearinghouse’s report wasn’t all bad. Community colleges saw smaller enrollment drops than in the previous fall and freshman enrollment stabilized following a steep decline in fall 2020.
But Dr. James L. Moore III, vice provost for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer at The Ohio State University, explained to me the challenges higher-ed leaders experience due to pandemic-related disruptions, including maintaining student interest, engagement and success. The higher education gender gap has worsened over the past two years too.
“Students, faculty and staff are just psychologically and emotionally exhausted by the constraints caused by the pandemic,” Moore said. “[It’s] a nightmare, without any ending in sight. Many students of color are opting out until things are better.
“Bottom line: If colleges and universities want to attract more students, they need to be more affordable and do a better job of accommodating economically and racially diverse students,” Toldson said.
Sinema busts Biden’s bubble on voting rights
Moments before President Biden was scheduled to visit Senate Democrats at the US Capitol on Thursday to make a final pitch for a rules change that allows a voting rights bill to pass with a simple majority, Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona took to the Senate floor and threw cold water on the proposition.
In an almost-20-minute speech, Sinema doubled down on her support for the 60-vote threshold that has united Senate Republicans against most of her party’s legislative priorities — including voting rights, the previously mentioned Build Back Better, police reform, immigration reform, gun control and more. “It’s more common today to demonize someone who thinks differently than us, rather than to seek to understand their views,” she said. “Our politics reflect and exacerbate these divisions, making it more and more difficult to find lasting, broadly supported solutions to safeguard our freedoms, keep our country safe and expand opportunity for all citizens.”
It’s worth noting that missing from Sinema’s remarks was an explanation for why she voted to bypass the 60-vote threshold to raise the government’s borrowing limit last month with a simple Democratic majority but drips with sanctimony when it comes to doing the same for voting rights.
If you want to decipher the actions of a politician, start with their motivations.
Sinema values the perception that she’s a maverick who marches to the beat of her own drum and can work with members of the other party to get shit done. I promise you Sinema wears the fact that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called the speech a “conspicuous act of political courage” as a badge of honor instead of proof that she’s on the worst and wrong side of the issue. (It was mostly Republicans, according to Dick Durbin, the number-two Senate Democrat, on the floor listening to the speech.)
The White House was obviously shaken by the speech. It’s not that she’s against eliminating the 60-vote threshold that was galling to sources, it was that she gave the speech before the president came to say his piece.
After the meeting, Biden emerged from the meeting resigned to yet another setback due slim congressional majorities.
“I don’t know that we’ll get it done but I know one thing: As long as I’m in the White House, as long as I’m engaged at all, I’m going to be fighting to change these legislatures have moving,” Biden said.
The president hosted Sens. Sinema and Joe Manchin of West Virginia at the White House last night to discuss a path forward on voting rights. The meeting last a bit over an hour. And it appears to have done little to soften the senators on the idea of shelving a Senate rule to protect the right to vote for millions of marginalized people across the country.
The Dems are back to a familiar place: Square one
The White House and Democratic leaders now have to determine the next steps.
The House passed the two bills on Thursday morning. But Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz disclosed he has COVID so Democrats don’t have the votes to even advance the legislation to a debate right now.
Leader Chuck Schumer canceled recess next week so the Senate will be back on Tuesday to vote on the bill even though it’s likely to fail. Once it does, then the Senate will vote on a rule change. (This, due to Sinema and Manchin, will fall flat too.)
There’s still value in Schumer putting the bill on the floor.
Because it’s one thing to give a speech on where you stand. It’s another to put your vote where your mouth is, which Sinema and Manchin would have to do.
What’s clear though is that the Democratic establishment has used a ton of political capital on two senators who are virtually in the same place they were a year ago.
They’ve squandered the support of civil rights leaders and voters who believed that they could deliver on their promises.
It’s never a good time to piss off your base voters, but 300 days from an election that’s like to be a referendum on Biden’s performance through two years is less than ideal.
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Today in Politics
President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing then provide an update at the 60-day mark since he signed the bipartisan infrastructure deal. This evening Biden will travel to his home in Wilmington, Delaware for the weekend.
First Lady Jill Biden will travel with Deputy FEMA Administrator Erik Hooks to Kentucky to view the recovery efforts after the recent tornadoes last month and volunteer at a local FEMA recovery center. They will be joined by Kentucky Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and First Lady Britainy Beshear.
The House is out.
The Senate is out.
In the Know
— Adults in households with children have fewer mental health problems than other adults living without kids. New research shows it’s possible that caring for children may provide increased social connections or an increased sense of purpose, both of which may contribute to improved mental health. [University of Michigan]
— Vice President Harris was interviewed by NBC’s Craig Melvin for the Today show on Thursday. “It is time for us to do what we have been doing and that time is every day. Every day it is time for us to agree that there are things and tools that are available to us to slow this thing down,” Harris said in a viral soundbite when asked if the administration should change course on its viral strategy. “We are in the midst of a surge. That’s where we are right now. And so right now, we know we still have a number of people that, that is in the millions of Americans who have not been vaccinated, and could be vaccinated, and we are urging them to get vaccinated because it will save their life.”
— The Justice Department indicted the leader of a far-right anti-government militia group and 10 others for seditious conspiracy and other offenses related to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. The indictment alleges the defendants conspired after the 2020 election to oppose by force the transfer of presidential power. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years.
— Related: The Justice Department announced that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has begun transferring eligible inmates out of BOP facilities and into either a supervised release program, a halfway house or home confinement. The transfers are a requirement of the 2018 First Step Act that reformed federal prisons and sentencing laws to reduce recidivism and decrease the federal inmate population.
— The past seven years have been the hottest in recorded history, according to scientists from NASA, NOAA and Berkeley Earth. Global temps in 2021 were among the highest ever observed with 25 countries setting new annual records. [Sarah Kaplan and John Muyskens / WaPo]
— Democratic Rep. Lori Trahan of Massachusetts introduced the TLDR Act, which would require websites to simply their terms of service. The sites would also have to disclose whether they have been hit by recent data breaches and what sensitive personal data they collect. [Christiano Lima / WaPo]
— The committee investigating the Capitol attack issued subpoenas for YouTube, Meta (formerly known as Facebook), Reddit and Twitter to turn over records after the companies ignored voluntary requests. “Two key questions for the Select Committee are how the spread of misinformation and violent extremism contributed to the violent attack, and what steps — if any — social media companies took to prevent their platforms from being breeding grounds for radicalizing people to violence,” the Committee said.
Read All About It
Amy McCarthy on the joy of eavesdropping in restaurants:
Before the pandemic, restaurants were a place where eavesdropping was easy and abundant. Under the influence of a few glasses of wine and empowered by a night out on the town without kids or any responsibilities, people tend to drop their inhibitions and dish — sharing everything from the juicy details of their own divorce to the story of how their neighbors got arrested — at volumes that would not be appropriate in basically any other context. There’s even good dirt in quieter situations, like sitting two stools down the bar from a guy who’s just been dumped, or thinks he’s about to be.
Terry Nguyen on the empty promise of instant delivery:
It hasn’t helped that Americans are courted by a growing number of apps and technologies that expedite how they shop. Through mobile orders, instant delivery, automated chatbots, and even self-checkout kiosks, people are promised immediacy alongside better and faster service. These tools are designed to give the customer a greater sense of control over how they receive their goods. With it comes the pretense of a life efficiently lived — at the expense of digital privacy, money, and tech companies’ brewing influence over our lives. Have you ever given in to a late-night notification encouraging you to order takeout?
Sara Morrison on the true cost of Amazon’s low prices:
Amazon sees all this as looking out for its customers and making sure they’re getting the lowest prices. But Racine and those who have filed similar lawsuits believe sellers and wholesalers are being stopped from selling their products for lower prices in other stores. Because of this, competitors can’t offer lower prices to get an advantage over Amazon, and customers end up paying Amazon’s prices even if they don’t shop at Amazon — and paying more. Sellers and wholesalers can choose not to sell to Amazon, but few of them have the size and brand recognition needed to survive in a world where so many shoppers do most, if not all, of their online shopping on Amazon.
Daniel Strauss on how Democratic governors may be democracy’s last line of defense:
There are 36 gubernatorial seats up for reelection in 2022, 16 with Democratic incumbents. And of the states with a Democratic governor, six have Republican-controlled legislatures. The outcome of these races will decide the course of voting rights reform across the country and play a major role in the next presidential election, especially in a scenario where a renominated Donald Trump peddles unfounded claims of voter fraud.
Abdul El-Sayed on how school closures are an indictment of America’s pandemic strategy:
When we say that schools are a priority, that has to translate into policy change. It should mean that when resources are limited, our priority institutions come first. But it hasn’t, which leaves too many kids coming last. Teachers aren’t simply public employees who educate our children. Often parents themselves, they’re also advocates for our kids. When they speak up about their concerns over the circumstances in our schools, we ought to listen.
Katherine Clark on the politics of going gray:
America has been led almost exclusively by gray-haired men for more than two and half centuries. But as a woman, my career seemed to be hanging in the balance because I was going natural. The narrow definition of acceptable hairstyles for women reflects a broader culture of sexism, ageism and bigotry. Black women and girls consistently experience racism in the form of hair control — in my district, two high school students were suspended from school and their sports teams for wearing their hair in braids. And that is not a rare experience.
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