Higher ed in the age of Trump

I recently attended briefings on Capitol Hill, sponsored by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities at its annual meeting. On the agenda was launching the Independent College Caucus, a bipartisan initiative to recognize contributions of independent colleges and universities.

Virginia’s U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte is a co-sponsor of the caucus, and I’ve invited our Hampton Roads congressional delegation to join as well.

With the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education, we await the administration’s actions on various issues that affect colleges and universities and especially the students we serve.

In its “Public Policy Objectives for the 115th Congress,” NAICU reiterated strong support for federal student aid programs (Pell Grants, Perkins Loans, the federal student loan program).

Of importance to our military community in Hampton Roads, we have expressed continuing support for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, affording educational opportunities to thousands of veterans and their families, and the “Yellow Ribbon” program that offers veterans’ tuition assistance at both public and private institutions. Virginia’s colleges and universities are well-represented in this program.

A number of NAICU’s policy topics have particular relevance as the Trump administration takes charge.

We recommend a renewed government commitment to international education in that “the ability of colleges to admit and educate students from throughout the world is a vital national interest, (supporting) measures to keep our borders open, with reasonable safeguards against the inappropriate use of student visas.”

I have long been an advocate of globalization of higher education, including making it feasible and affordable for American students to study abroad. As NAICU points out, “In an increasingly global community, our economic future and national security will depend on a citizenry with a deeper understanding of diverse cultures and a broader, more inclusive world view.”

In recent years, calls for greater scrutiny and accountability of higher education — including independent institutions — have led to concern about excessive, unreasonable regulation. The higher education community has resisted federal efforts to impose conformity on colleges and universities in areas such as admissions, assessment, program content, and value-for-cost considerations.

Traditionally, oversight of institutional accessibility and performance, quality of academic programs, and strength of co-curricular offerings has come from the nation’s regional accrediting bodies, a system that has worked well for generations.

I am hopeful that Washington’s apparent interest in reducing excessive government regulation will extend, appropriately, to colleges and universities — leaving intact the independence and credibility of accrediting agencies.

Other potential areas of concern include ensuring that donors are not encumbered in making charitable, deductible gifts to colleges and universities; fostering scientific research and data collection through government grants to institutions; and maintaining the tax-free status of endowments, which provide essential financial security to campuses.

Most important, however, in the view of many of my colleagues is resisting arbitrary bans on immigration and travel that negatively impact our nation’s campuses.

Virginia Wesleyan recently joined with nearly 600 universities and colleges from around the United States in voicing concerns about recent executive orders banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

Our letter to Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, sent by the American Council on Education, notes that while we “take seriously the need to safeguard our nation and also the need for the United States to remain the destination of choice for the world’s best and brightest students, faculty and scholars. … [W]e are confident that our nation can craft policies that secure us from those who wish to harm us, while welcoming those who seek to study, conduct research and scholarship, and contribute their knowledge and talents to our country.”

American higher education is respected throughout the world.

Our ability to foster dialogue, perform research, document new knowledge, and forge collaboration is unmatched.

In the rush to guarantee “America First” in the new administration’s agenda, it should be noted that we are clearly already prominent and competitive as a higher education community in countless ways. Yet we thrive on the diversity found on our campuses, our innovative partnerships, and our respect for the free flow of ideas.

I would therefore hope that American colleges and universities will not enter a new age of isolationism but instead have the freedom to continue our work in productive, non-partisan ways — ensuring our role not only in keeping America first but also truly great.

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Dr. Scott D. Miller is President of Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk/Virginia Beach. Previously, Dr. Miller served as President at Bethany College in West Virginia (2007-15), Wesley College in Delaware (1997-2007) and Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee (1991-97).

He wrote this for the February 19 issue of The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA)

Follow Dr. Scott D. Miller on Twitter: www.twitter.com/vawesleyanprez

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