With a divided Congress and a Democratic president, legislators will not likely reauthorize the Higher Education Act this year. However, critical issues that impact community colleges and our students are still being discussed– primarily over increasing the debt ceiling and Department of Education regulations. Below are the CCLC's summations on the debt ceiling, Dept. of Education regulations, Title IX & gainful employment.

 Debt Ceiling 

By law, the United States cannot default on its debt, and therefore every couple of years, lawmakers must vote to authorize to increase the amount of debt the country takes on. 

In the past, this has largely been a procedural maneuver, as it largely provides the ability to borrow funds needed to implement spending plans that Congress and the executive branch approved.

However, this vote has become quite contentious in the past several years. Lawmakers in both parties have increasingly complained about the process, and this year is no exception. Republicans in the House of Representatives are asking for significant cuts in non-defense discretionary spending to vote to increase the debt limit, with President Biden asking for an increase not attached to any spending cuts. While the details of the proposed spending cuts from House Republicans were vague, programs governed by the Department of Labor or Department of Education would likely be vulnerable under the proposal.

While experts believe that both sides will likely come to an eventual agreement, the impact of a default on the United States debt would be dire. The economy could go back into a recession, with programs and revenues impacting community colleges and our students in jeopardy. The deadline to agree and increase the debt limit is early June.

United States Department of Education Regulations 

Without reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, the United States Department of Education (DOE) has increasingly turned to regulations to update higher education policy. Two critical issues are either expected to be acted on this month or were recently proposed. These are regulations promulgated under the Department of Education's authority to ban sex-based discrimination and college eligibility to access federal financial aid.

Title IX – Sexual Assault and Harassment Investigations and 

The Department of Education plans to release its final regulations governing how colleges conduct Title IX sexual assault and harassment investigations this month. However, the Department of Education received hundreds of thousands of comments and must consider their content. Thus, issuing their final regulations this month is only a goal, not a hard deadline.

The final regulations are expected to match the draft released in June 2022 closely. These regulations would increase the scope of colleges' responsibilities to investigate allegations of sexual assault or harassment, broadening the definition of sexual assault or harassment and changing how colleges address these allegations. The American Association of California Community Colleges has a summary of these proposed regulations on its website.

In addition to regulations governing sexual assault and harassment investigations, the Department of Education released a notice regarding regulations focused on transgender participation in sports. Under these proposed regulations, colleges would be prohibited from imposing a total ban on transgender students participating in athletics but can make judgments on participation in specific sports. Guidance and specific decision criteria focus on the competition and safety of student-athletes. Colleges would also be required to minimize harm to transgender students who cannot participate in sports when considering prohibiting transgender students from competition.  

Gainful Employment 

The Department of Education has released its new proposed rules of regulations around gainful employment, which is used to determine if a certificated program provides enough skills or training for students to obtain a meaningful job. While these regulations mainly target programs at for-profit institutions, they will also apply to many programs at community colleges.

The proposed regulations expand upon the regulations promulgated by the Obama administration but were canceled by the Trump administration. In addition to requiring that program graduates must have a minimum level of debt relative to their wages, under the new rules, colleges will need to graduate students who receive a salary more than the average graduate with only a high school degree between 25 and 34 years old.

While most California community college programs will comply with these regulations, complying with and reporting required outcome metrics is administratively burdensome. The public has 30 days to make comments, and the goal for the final regulations will be November 2023.  

Authored by Ryan McElhinney

Ryan is the Policy and Advocacy Manager at the CCLC and has served as a legislative advocate for the CCLC for nearly 10 years.