An anniversary is always important to mark. Sometimes, our observances are celebratory; sometimes, they are low-key or even somber. As we mark significant milestones for several federal programs highlighted in this issue of Connections, we reflect with gratitude on the positive impact that these programs have made on students, faculty, staff and institutions within our Jesuit community.

In recent years, each program has faced threats and challenges. The articles contributed here by our Jesuit colleges and universities reinforce the importance of DACA, Title IX and Pell Grants to our campus communities. In the months ahead, we anticipate new and final regulations and/or court decisions to determine the direction and fate of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). We will see final regulations that establish new rules for the Title IX program and, hopefully this month, Congress will set a funding level for the maximum Pell Grant award. Through advocacy and engagement, we hope to ensure these programs remain on strong footing and that our higher education community will once again be celebrating the benefits of these programs long into the future.

DACA: It has been ten years since the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (then led by Secretary Janet Napolitano under the Obama Administration) established the DACA program. Today, this policy faces some of the most serious threats since its creation in 2012. DACA is a policy that provides certain individuals with temporary relief from deportation and the authorization to work in the United States. 800,000 people have benefited from DACA, which includes opportunities to pursue a post-secondary education. They have served on the front lines during the pandemic in fields of teaching, healthcare, public safety, and more.

DACA had been accepted, established policy until recent efforts were made (under the previous Administration) to eliminate the program. A series of legal challenges have left DACA hanging by a thread – causing extraordinary uncertainty for current recipients. The Biden Administration has offered new rules to strengthen and fortify DACA but, in the end, advocates and leaders in Congress must pass legislation that will establish permanent protections and a pathway toward citizenship for current DACA recipients and DREAMERS. Legislative action is the only way to truly provide needed security for this community. AJCU continues to advocate for permanent protections and legal status for DACA recipients, as well as Dreamers.

Pell Grants: Fifty years ago, a new program called the Basic Education Opportunity Grant was authorized by Congress as part of the Higher Education Amendments of 1972. This new grant was provided directly to students with demonstrated economic need, who were allowed to use it to pursue post-secondary education at the institution of their choice. To date, it remains the single largest source of federal grant aid supporting postsecondary education students, having provided assistance to over 80 million students (Congressional Research Service).

In 1980, the program was renamed for its founder, the late U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI). While its successes are many, there is still room for improvement: for example, at some institutions, Pell students’ graduation rates are lower than their non-Pell peers. Last fiscal year, Congress included a $500 increase to the maximum Pell; this was its largest increase in ten years, and brought the total of the maximum Pell Grant to $6,895. The House and Senate Democratic proposals for FY23 include another $500 increase to the maximum grant. The Biden Administration, advocates, and many in Congress have rallied around proposals to double the maximum Pell grant to $13,000 over the next five years (H.R.394). AJCU knows that Pell is a foundational tool in making a Jesuit education accessible and affordable to more students. We will be pushing hard to realize the $500 increase before the year’s end. In a convergence, the Biden Administration has also proposed extending Pell eligibility (as well as eligibility for other federal student aid dollars) to DACA recipients.

Title IX: 2022 also marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX: the landmark gender equity legislation. Title IX, championed by the late U.S. Representative Patsy Mink (D-HI) and signed into law by former President Richard Nixon, prohibits sex discrimination in any educational program or activity that receives any type of federal financial aid. This far-reaching law covers students enrolled in elementary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions, demanding equal treatment and equal participation in educational opportunities and sports. It also offers protections for individuals from sexual assault and harassment, practices that hinder opportunities to learn.

The last three Administrations have proposed rules to guide the implementation of Title IX, each imposing their own priorities and interpretation of the program. These rules outline procedures for investigations of Title IX reports; specific information on how Title IX cases must be adjudicated on campuses; and details on who is required to report violations of Title IX. Most recently, the Biden Administration has offered new regulations (released on the 50th anniversary of Title IX) that protect students on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity with the goal of providing an educational environment free from discrimination. AJCU joined other higher education associations in submitting comments in response to the proposed regulations (to date, the U.S. Department of Education has received more than 240,000 comments). After review, the regulations will be finalized and published.

Title IX, Pell Grants and DACA are three foundational programs that have had an outsized impact on post-secondary educational access for women, for individuals with economic need, and for immigrants. Because of these programs, post-secondary education has evolved to become more inclusive and more accessible. As we mark these anniversaries this year, we have the opportunity to acknowledge progress while also acknowledging how much more must be done to truly realize the intention for the establishment of these programs. We must continue to strive for equity, accessibility and inclusiveness, and work to ensure our campus communities are places where learning can flourish.

By Jenny Smulson, Vice President of Government Relations, AJCU