Federal Actions to Significantly Impact Educational Institutions

Published: March 12, 2021

Actions undertaken by Congress and the White House have underscored a renewed federal focus on education. Passage of the American Rescue Plan Act will provide additional federal support to educational institutions hard hit by the pandemic. Further, a pair of Presidential Executive Orders seek swift action to promote enhanced equity on college campuses.

The American Rescue Plan Act, signed by President Biden on March 11, includes nearly $40 billion in relief for colleges and universities. The funds provide critical support for institutions that have experienced significant challenges to enrollment and operations due to the pandemic. While the allocation of funds under the Act will generally follow criteria developed for 2020 Cares Act distributions, including focus upon an institution’s enrollment of Pell Grant eligible students, further specific guidance from the Department of Education is anticipated within weeks.

In regard to gender equity, two Executive Orders were issued on March 8. The first, Executive Order 14020, mandates the formation of a new body, the White House Gender Policy Council, to advise the President and formulate policy recommendations to advance equity across various sectors. The Council is charged with producing a “Government-wide strategy for advancing gender equity” within 200 days, and, specifically in the area of education, promoting broad-based participation in STEM fields.

Under Executive Order 14021, the Secretary of Education is provided 100 days to conduct a review of implementing regulations, policies, and guidance related to Title IX, giving specific attention to controversial guidance implemented in August 2020, and to consider “suspending, revising or rescinding” any regulation deemed inconsistent with applicable laws.

Steptoe & Johnson attorneys understand the impact that such changing federal higher education policies can have on institutions. Please contact our Higher Education Team to help your institution pro-actively prepare for emerging changes.

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