NAICU Washington Update

Senate Confirms King as Secretary of Education

March 22, 2016

After a whirlwind of hearings before the education authorizing and appropriations committees, the U. S. Senate voted 49-40 to confirm John King as the next Secretary of Education on March 15. He is the 10th Secretary since the agency was created in 1979, and will serve the remaining nine months of the Obama Administration.

In the most recent hearing, before the Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee on March 10, then Acting Secretary King presented the Department of Education Budget Request for FY 2017. While there was plenty of discussion about proposed funding levels and the administration’s priorities for higher education, the discussion focused more on issues emerging as a result of the ongoing reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

While the legislative and political calendars make a full reauthorization of the Higher Education Act unlikely this year, it is clear from the hearings that senators have begun to hone in on regulatory burden, campus sexual assault, and simplifying student aid as key issues. A smaller bill on these topics could still be possible.


Republican members were particularly interested in voicing their concerns about college ratings based on earnings, the regulatory burden on colleges, and the interpretation of Title IX guidance.

  • Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), chair of the Subcommittee on the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, and former president of Southwest Baptist College, said “there is too much focus on earnings and gainful employment . . . nonprofit colleges would not be able to meet these standards, and there’s nothing wrong with Art History majors.”
  • Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, who also sits on the appropriations subcommittee, asked King to commit to addressing the regulatory burden related to Return of Title IV, Financial Responsibility Standards, and duplication of Department of Education survey information requested from institutions (IPEDS issue). King agreed to see what could be done administratively on the regulatory issues Alexander itemized.
  • Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, voiced concern about the approach being taken by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in issuing Dear Colleague Letters that are being enforced as if they were regulations, rather than guidance. Lankford and OCR have exchanged letters trying to clarify the intent of OCR, and he and King agreed to continue the discussion.


Democrats on the subcommittee highlighted college affordability, Pell Grant funding, student loan debt, and campus sexual assault.

  • Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) commented to King that he has introduced “skin in the game” legislation to incentivize institutions to make student loans more manageable, but asked “what can you do administratively? This situation is starting to look too much like the mortgage crisis.”
  • Sen. Patty Murray (D-MA), ranking member of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) covered many of these issues in her opening statements, then targeted campus sexual assault as a concern of crisis proportions, asking King to talk about the need for increased OCR funding to enforce Title IX compliance and resolve Title IX cases.

MORE News from NAICU