What a Biden-Harris Administration Means for Higher Education

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President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and First Lady Jill Biden celebrate their presidential win in front of an American flag.
Senator Joe Biden accepts the Democratic nomination for president alongside wife Jill Biden and running mate Kamala Harris in Wilmington, Delaware on August 20, 2020. (Photo credit Lawrence Jackson / Biden for President)

The election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris has many indications for diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education.

Harris’ victory broke gender and racial barriers, as she is the first woman, first Black person, and first South Asian person to serve in the role of vice president. As a graduate of Howard University, she will also be the first high-ranking White House official who is an alum of a historically Black college and university (HBCU).

“While I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last. Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities,” Harris said during her victory speech. “And to the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: Dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourself in a way that others might not see you, simply because they’ve never seen it before.”

The Biden-Harris victory comes at a time when the nation is seeing a renewed social justice movement due to racial tensions across the country. A week before the election, protests and social unrest ensued in Philadelphia after a police officer fatally shot a 27-year-old Black man with bipolar disorder.

Biden’s campaign slogan centered around “restoring the soul of America” and his popularity resonated with youth. Mid-October polls found that he had a 50-point lead among college students, according to a survey released by College Pulse and Chegg.

College Affordability and Student Loan Debt

One of the key issues that cater to Biden’s young supporters is his proposal to forgive up to $10,000 of federal student loan debt. The president-elect does not support canceling all education debt, but his plans for student debt relief include cracking down on private lenders who profit off students.

Biden has also said that he will focus on reducing the cost of tuition at public two-and four-year colleges and universities. His administration plans to strengthen community colleges by creating a new grant program to support students on the path to success. Biden has also said that he intends to make a $50 billion investment in workforce training, including community college and business partnerships and apprenticeships.

Biden’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden, works at a two-year college. As an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College, she will be the first First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS) in 231 years to have a full-time job, according to USA Today. Media outlets have already given her the moniker of “Professor FLOTUS.”

Education — in addition to cancer research and a focus on military families and veterans.— will be one of Jill Biden’s priorities as FLOTUS. In his acceptance speech, Joe Biden told American educators that his victory was triumphant news, as they will “have one of [their] own in the White House.”

Photo of Vice President Kamala Harris and FLOTUS Dr. Jill Biden
Left: Senator Kamala Harris criticizes President Donald Trump’s failures in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in Washington, D.C. on August 27, 2020. (Photo credit Lawrence Jackson / Biden for President) Right: Jill Biden visits the University of Dubuque in Iowa while on the 2020 campaign trail. As an English professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, she will be the first FLOTUS in 231 years to have a full-time job.

Minority-Serving Institutions

In an effort to stop the underfunding of non-predominantly White institutions (PWIs), states will be required to show improvements and explain their rationale for funding disparities at HBCUs, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and other Minority-Serving Institutions through annual federal funds reporting under Biden. Competitive grant programs will require schools to compete against similarly situated colleges and universities. For example, HBCUs will compete with one another for grants rather than vying against PWIs.

International Students

The Trump administration has made detrimental policy decisions for international students in recent years, including banning travel from certain Muslim-majority countries and threatening to revoke visas if students didn’t attend in-person classes during the pandemic. Biden has vowed to undo Trump’s travel ban, stabilize the student visa system, and improve international student access through measures such as securing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — also known as DACA — program.

Diversity and Title IX

President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and policies have been criticized by many Americans for perpetuating hate speech, xenophobia, racism, and misogyny during a time when issues of racial injustice and gender inequality are still at the forefront of society. His dramatic political ideology and style became widely known as Trumpism. One of the president’s most recent executive orders bans federal contractors from participating in diversity training.

Schools such as the University of Memphis, the University of Iowa, and John A. Logan College in Illinois have suspended diversity training and related events in response to the executive order, which threatens to withdraw funding for noncompliance. Biden’s administration will most likely reverse this policy, according to USA Today.

Trump’s administration also significantly rolled back Title IX restrictions, a decision that critics say discourages sexual assault survivors from reporting campus harassment and sexual violence. Biden’s plan looks to strengthen Title IX guidelines by supporting legislation that expands survivors’ reporting rights on college campuses and requires comprehensive sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence prevention education and training at higher education institutions.

Mariah Stewart is a senior staff writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity.