The President’s Executive Order on Free Inquiry, Institutional Transparency and Accountability
On March 21, 2019, President Trump signed an Executive Order entitled “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities.” The Executive Order seeks to promote First Amendment rights, improve transparency relating to financial aid information, and address student loan debt in higher education.
- Free Inquiry: Specifically, the Executive Order requires that colleges uphold free speech in order to “promote free inquiry” at the risk of jeopardizing federal research funds or education grants. Without requiring that institutions take any specific steps, the Executive Order encourages public institutions to fulfill their obligation to uphold the First Amendment and private schools to comply with their stated institutional policies regarding free speech. The Executive Order encourages agencies to “take appropriate steps” to ensure college and university campuses are places of free thought and debate, in accordance with the constitutional requirements under the First Amendment and federal laws, regulations and policies. Education Department Secretary Betsy Devos further stated: “As students pursue their education, they should never face limits on what, when, where, or how they learn. They should be empowered to pursue truth through the free exchange of all ideas, especially ideas with which they may not agree. Free inquiry is an essential feature of our democracy. . .”
- Financial Institutional Transparency: The Executive Order also seeks to help students and their families understand the future implications of choosing various educational programs, institutions, and student loans. The Executive Order directs the Secretary of Education, through the Office of Federal Student Aid, to update the online website and create a mobile application that informs federal student loan borrowers of how much they owe, how much their monthly payment will be when they enter repayment, repayment options available to them, how long each repayment option will take, and how to enroll in the repayment option that best serves their needs. Secretary DeVos explained, “[B]uilding on the President’s directive, the app’s capabilities will expand to give students access to information about loan balances, payments, and repayment options right at their fingertips. We believe that these important reforms, along with the Department’s ambitious negotiated rulemaking agenda, will make college more affordable, break down barriers to innovation in higher education, and encourage new approaches and new partnerships for the benefit of students.” The updated website and mobile application is set to be implemented by January 1, 2020.
- Accountability: The Executive Order also seeks to expand the current “College Scorecard”, a site on that Department’s website at https://collegescorecard.ed.gov, to provide students with more specific information to evaluate the return on investment for various institutions, degrees, or fields of study. The program-level data will need to include the estimated median earnings, median Stafford loan debt, median Graduate PLUS loan debt, median Parent PLUS loan debt, and student loan default rate and repayment rate.
The Executive Order also requires that the Department of Education develop policy proposals to help ensure that colleges and universities share the financial risk associated with student loans and reforming the collections process for federal student loans in default. This aligns with the President’s goal of increasing institutional accountability in hopes of colleges and universities considering likely future earnings when determining the cost of their educational programs.
Should you have any questions or concerns about the implications of this Executive Order, please feel free to contact HMBR’s Higher Education Group at 312-946-1800.