By Tosin Akintola
2020 is winding down, the weather’s getting frosty, we can smell a vaccine in the air, and our out of office messages are set. This year will certainly go down as one of the most unprecedented in modern history. It began with devastating wildfires in Australia, the impeachment of President Trump, the tragic death of Kobe Bryant — all within the month of January! The next month brought the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl win, “Parasite” and its FOUR Academy Awards and the resurgence of President-elect Biden’s campaign in South Carolina. And then, after experiencing a year’s worth of events in just two month’s time, the world was brought to a virtual standstill with the spread of COVID-19, and the subsequent efforts to mitigate the health crisis.
If there’s one thing to be said for this year, it certainly kept our team @ThirdWayEDU on its toes, with the pandemic flipping our nation’s higher education system on its head. With higher ed’s inequities laid bare by the pandemic, administrators, educators and students alike had to quickly adapt to succeed, with each group facing their own unique challenges. Still, there’s a lot to be proud of this year. We worked to secure a bipartisan Senate coalition voting to overturn Betsy DeVos’ harmful borrower defense rule, advocated for doubling Pell, and made the value case for #HigherEd — while still pushing accountability and transparency from institutions. We tackled it all on social media, so join us for a look back at our tweets that defined the year we’ll never forget.
The year began with the passing of a bipartisan joint resolution by the House condemning Betsy DeVos’s illegal rewrite of borrower defense, moved to a Senate fight, with 10 Republicans breaking party lines in support of the resolution, and was eventually vetoed by President Trump, his first use of the power in office. This hard fight on the borrower defense to repayment rule set the stage for a year spent fighting with bipartisan partners, working to protect our nation’s students and their #HigherEd investment. An ill-conceived and unpopular idea, even amongst Republicans, it’s no surprise our statement on the Senate’s rejection of Betsy DeVos’s rewrite of the rule garnered a lot of attention, making it one of our most engaging tweets of the year.
Between the pandemic, online semesters, economic uncertainty, and nationwide social justice protests, American students and school administrators had a busy summer. Tough decisions on if or when colleges should physically open their campuses, what administrators and staff could do to lend virtual support to their students, and how to address a history of racial inequality in our country were all on the agenda when we sat down with Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. And the debate surrounding campus reopenings remained a hot button issue throughout the summer months. This article for the NY Times, courtesy of Susan Dynarski, professor of public policy, education and economics at the University of Michigan, provides a neat summation of the prevailing sentiment on the issue, “College is worth it, but Campus isn’t.”
For students already struggling to keep up with the costs of college,the financial effects of the pandemic often meant they could not afford to enroll, or remain enrolled in their post-secondary programs without direct support. Enter doubling the Pell Grant, an idea based on the success of the Pell Grant program (the foundational federal college aid program), and targeted towards the students who had been most impacted by the pandemic. The campaign to strengthen Pell has received widespread support from students, advocates, policymakers, and members of Congress alike — and we can all agree it’s not often you find something in DC this popular without a Nats symbol on it!
When you need expert advice, you go to an expert. For policymakers interested in data- driven decision making, @ThirdWayEDU offered up a veritable smorgasbord as we produced research briefs from leading academics around the country as part of our new #ACADEMIXUpshot series. Events like the webinar with @C2Initiative — a research project at Davidson College spearheaded by Dr. Chris Marsicano and students including Sam Owusu and Emily Rounds — have been natural outgrowths of the larger mission of #ACADEMIX, translating expert research into a more easily digestible format.
With the election behind us and a new administration incoming, rejuvenated advocates set their sights on the lame duck session, pushing members of Congress to pass legislation on key issues with bipartisan support, such as FAFSA simplification and restoring Pell Grants for incarcerated students. While this was part of the year-end spending bill, many who have been fighting for these issues on behalf of students for years are hopeful this big win foreshadows even more victories for students in 2021.
Now that President-elect Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Education is out, we can look forward to a potential fresh face at the head of the Department of Education rounding the bend to a new year. If confirmed, Dr. Miguel Cardona would be the complete opposite of his predecessor, Betsy DeVos — a dedicated public school educator with a track record of serving students. His nomination signals a change in status-quo from the industry-first approach of the Department in the recent past. Undoing the harmful policy choices of the previous administration will be hard work for whomever leads the Department, but we’re all glad that it’s being done!
As always, in wrapping up this year in review as told by @ThirdWayEDU, we end this year looking into the next with unbridled optimism.There’s still much work to be done in regards to pandemic response and recovery in higher education, but after weathering a year full of storms seen and unseen, we feel ready for it all!