By Jenny Smulson, Vice President of Government Relations, AJCU
Last week, our nation welcomed a new Administration. The traditional inauguration ceremony came on the heels of a violent and criminal attempted take-over of the U.S. Capitol—an act that prompted all 27 of the U.S. Jesuit college and university presidents to release a joint statement condemning the violence. Meanwhile, the 117th U.S. Congress began with a 50-50 Senate controlled by the Democrats; a U.S. House of Representatives led by a narrower Democratic margin; and a new President and Vice President who have inherited multiple national crises.
For the third consecutive session, ten percent of Congress are Jesuit-educated. Thirteen members of the Senate and 42 members of the House graduated from a Jesuit college or university. In addition to our alumni, we welcome new Members of Congress who will represent our institutions in both the House and Senate.
As expected, President Biden has been busy since his swearing-in, beginning with the issuing of several Executive Orders to reverse many of the Trump Administration’s policies. These Executive Orders will: protect Dreamers by preserving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program; end discriminatory bans on entry to the United States; and advance racial equity by rescinding the previous Administration’s 1776 Commission and Executive Order limiting government implementation of diversity and inclusion training. President Biden also extended the pause on student loan payments and interest on federal student loans.
The Biden Administration signaled that battling Covid remains a number one priority by calling for additional stimulus funding and federal intervention. AJCU remains grateful that the Administration and Congressional leadership continue to focus on a comprehensive Covid rescue plan that will put families, institutions, and our economy on a path toward health, safety and strength. The Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan summary calls for $35 billion in funding to expand the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, but includes some contradictory language that seems to exclude some private, nonprofit institutions of higher education from its formula (private, nonprofit HBCUs and Minority-Serving Institutions [MSIs] were included).
We are also aware that some Members of Congress oppose passing another Covid supplemental relief bill. In late December, just weeks prior to the Inauguration, Congress passed, and President Trump signed, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA). This bipartisan legislation provided $20 billion to students, colleges and universities through the established Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. These funds will be distributed (per formula) by the U.S. Department of Education and provide support to students and institutions of higher education for emergency needs and expenses related to the pandemic.
These funds, in addition to the $14 billion in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) funds, have provided a much-needed lifeline across the country. Still, our institutions continue to be negatively impacted by the financial expenses associated with the pandemic, as do many of our students and families.
How is AJCU engaging on these issues? Our president, Rev. Michael Garanzini, S.J., has written to all of our incoming Representatives and Senators with a connection to AJCU—those who represent our institutions in Congress, as well as our alumni. We have welcomed them to the 117th U.S. Congress by sharing our legislative priorities and offering meetings and an open-door policy to further inform them on our students, institutions, and educational traditions and successes. We have also shared with them the impact of the pandemic on our campuses and local communities.
The AJCU Government Relations Network is also deeply engaged in outreach and advocacy. Our GR leaders are reaching out to Congress to express gratitude for the federal dollars provided through CARES and CRRSSA; to share how those funds have been applied to their institutions; and to remind Members that our students, their families and our institutions continue to face massive challenges as the pandemic endures. Congress has a significant role to play in developing the next stimulus bill and AJCU will continue to work with our Congressional delegations in order to educate and inform them of our issues.
As part of the higher education community, we have requested $120 billion in funding from the federal government since the beginning of the pandemic. But this figure underestimates the struggles of our students and the losses of our schools as we continue to identify students on less-secure economic footing and in need of greater, more varied support; enrollment declines; extraordinary, unexpected costs related to safety (e.g. testing/PPE); lost revenue; and on-going expenses related to the transition to virtual and hybrid instruction. Our institutions serve as community anchors, major employers, and contributors to the stability and vitality of local economies: together, we must be partners in the national recovery from the pandemic.
We share the Biden Administration’s urgency in getting the pandemic under control to ensure our return to in-person instruction and fully reopen our campuses for the broad benefit of all. Our Jesuit colleges and universities are serving students in this moment by providing emergency support, rigorous academic instruction online, and institutional aid with a goal of ensuring continuity during this unpredictable and challenging time. We continue our mission to prepare people for others, who are deeply committed to service and caring for those on the margins. We have confidence that our graduates will lead the way in our post-pandemic world by contributing toward public health, the economic vitality of the nation, and the common good.