The new Biden administration took immediate action on a number of policy items of direct relevance to higher education through a series of executive actions and presidential directives. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were sworn in as president and vice president of the United States on Jan. 20.
The president ordered the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to extend the federal government’s pause on most student loan payments and interest during the pandemic for an additional eight months. Accordingly, ED announced it will continue to freeze collection of monthly payments and interest on most federal student loans until Sept. 30. This action will benefit roughly 40 million federal borrowers who have been shielded from payments and interest since the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was enacted last March 27. The president’s directive extends former President Trump’s executive action last year, which unilaterally extended the CARES Act relief until the end of December 2020. Former Secretary of Education Betsy Devos had extended that policy through the end of January.
Despite an assertion of authority to suspend repayments and cover accrued interest on all federally held student loans, the new administration has indicated that it does not have the authority to forgive student loans, a policy favored by progressives, and has made it clear that it wants Congress to tackle that issue. Additionally, President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief proposal does not include student loan forgiveness, though his advisers said that he still supports the idea.
In addition, the Biden administration also plans to swiftly undo the Trump administration’s policy that prohibited federal contractors and some grant recipients that conduct “any form of race or sex stereotyping,” including diversity training.
Biden also signed an executive order that his advisers said “builds on” the Supreme Court’s ruling last year in Bostock v. Clayton County, a landmark ruling that said federal law protects employees against workplace discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.
Most notably, Biden also signed a presidential memorandum on Jan. 20 aimed at “preserving and fortifying” the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that provides relief from deportation to immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children. The administration will submit a legislative proposal to Congress to allow DACA recipients to immediately apply for permanent legal status.
Finally, the president signed an executive order lifting his predecessor’s “Muslim ban,” which prevented citizens of a number of mostly Muslim countries from entering the U.S.
AASCU President Mildred García congratulated President Biden and Vice President Harris and stated AASCU “stands with them to unite the country and ensure equity and opportunity for all.”