As the dust begins to settle after the 2022 midterm elections, Shorelight is closely watching to see how US universities and international education will be impacted and is starting to lay out key issues to engage on during the next Congress.
Both chambers will be operating with narrow majorities. Some predicted there would be a red wave in the House, as it’s common for the president’s opposing party to win more seats during the midterms. Instead, Republicans won a slim majority in the House, and Democrats will retain a narrow majority in the Senate. Because neither party will hold supermajorities, overcoming a filibuster in the US Senate will be an extreme challenge, and we don’t anticipate any major legislation out of either chamber. The House and the Senate will have to compromise to successfully move legislation through both chambers.
At Shorelight, we will look for opportunities to engage stakeholders and work on future legislation that will be modest and able to make it through both chambers by gaining support from both parties.
For international students, opportunities to gain work experience as part of their educational journey through programs like Occupational Practical Training (OPT) and Curricular Practical Training (CPT) are one of the primary drivers when evaluating where to study abroad. In turn, offering work programs provides America with highly skilled international talent to promote innovation and address our workforce shortage. Work programs are currently protected by regulation and not enshrined in law. As Congress looks to strengthen the US economy, there may be a path to pass legislation related to OPT/CPT and expand them. With a specific shortage of US workers in STEM, the White House began to address the problem by adding 22 fields in STEM that are now eligible for 3-year post-graduation work programs.
During the current Congressional session, the House included language supporting high-skilled STEM students in the now-enacted CHIPS Act, although the Senate later removed it. The proposed language included a pathway to work in the US by eliminating numerical limitations for students with advanced STEM degrees at master’s or higher level and opening a path for Dual Intent for F-1 students pursuing an advanced STEM degree. These proposals would have boosted domestic manufacturing and the gap in STEM-related jobs. Currently, in the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which is still being negotiated and expected to pass during the lame-duck session, another attempt has been made to include similar STEM language. While we anticipate this amendment will not make it into the final legislation, it illustrates an appetite by Congress to address the anticipated shortage of qualified STEM employees.
While a great deal will change before the 2024 presidential election, including who will run for president, the Senate map is unfavorable for Democrats. Additionally, all House seats will again be up for reelection. The next two years likely provide the best opportunity to address OPT and CPT, Dual Intent, and visa adjudication, processing, and backlogs. The pandemic allowed the current administration and policymakers to successfully separate issues impacting international students from the broader and more contentious subject of immigration. As campaigns ramp up in 2024, immigration will become a heated topic again, and international education could be swept back into the broader debate. The next two years will likely be the best opportunity for the industry to tackle small but important policy changes.
Domestic Education Issues
Rising costs and the impact of the pandemic on students and schools have increased partisanship in education. According to a Congressional session preview by Squire Patton Boggs, some of the anticipated legislation will involve the following:
They are addressing enrollment declines at 4-year and community colleges. Democrats will continue to focus on funding federal loan programs, while Republicans will prioritize expanding career and technical education and vocational education opportunities. Some policies from both parties are expected to have bipartisan support.
There will be a push to introduce and drive conversations on issues, including expanding school choice offerings and restricting certain topics like critical race theory.
The courts have halted the Biden Administration's student loan cancellation plan. Congress could take separate action to address loan forgiveness or interest rates as repayment is set to begin on Jan 1. With partisan divides potentially limiting the long-overdue reauthorization, the Department of Education and other agencies will likely lead on education policy.
Expect Republicans to force Democrats to take difficult votes ahead of the 2024 presidential elections – especially on China. We know that political tensions and the pandemic have already impacted the flow of Chinese students coming to the US for higher education. Recent nonimmigrant visa issuance data analyzed by Shorelight shows Chinese student enrollment dropped 48% between Fall 2021 and Fall 2022.
President Biden and President Xi recently met and both agreed on the need to manage the relationship between the two countries.We anticipate continued efforts by policymakers to remain focused on critical issues such as intellectual property and Taiwan. The Biden administration will have to carefully navigate the US-China relationship moving forward.
Beginning to increase post-graduation work opportunities would attract more international students to the US and allow international STEM talent to continue making meaningful contributions to the US economy, which is critical to our global leadership, economy, and strength. As we plan for the next two years, it is vital that colleges and universities across the country and the higher education sector focus on the small but significant potential policy changes, such as the language included in CHIPS or NDAA. Moving these issues forward will take a substantial amount of collective advocacy and will impact our ability to remain competitive among our global competitors.
While a great deal will change before the 2024 presidential election, including who will run for president, the Senate map is unfavorable for Democrats. Additionally, all House seats will again be up for reelection. The next two years likely provide the best opportunity to address OPT and CPT, Dual Intent, and visa adjudication, processing, and backlogs. The pandemic allowed the current administration and policymakers to successfully separate issues impacting international students from the broader and more controversial subject of immigration. As campaigns ramp up in 2024, immigration will once again become a heated topic, and it’s possible international education could be swept back into the broader debate. The next two years will likely be the best opportunity for the industry to tackle small but important policy changes.