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Higher Education Under President Obama

By John K. Wilson

Higher education was largely ignored in the 2008 campaign, but the results of the election will have substantial consequences for colleges and universities.

How will President Barack Obama change higher education policy? Obama has proposed increased financial aid for students by utilizing the direct lending program, and a new community service plan to offer $4,000 tuition grants in exchange for working in the community for 100 hours.

However, the most dramatic effects of an Obama presidency may be on the budget priorities. Obama has called for increased investment in science environmental technology, and university research budgets may benefit from a growth in funding, if the economic crisis doesn’t wipe out the federal budgets. Obama has called for creating new programs to improve math and science education. He supports lifting the ban on federal research involving stem cells.

On academic freedom, an Obama Administration is likely to reverse many Bush Administration policies and practices that have endangered scientific research in government bureaus. Obama is also likely to overturn the common rejection of visas for foreign scholars deemed too critical of American foreign policy.

During the debates, Obama called for colleges to allow ROTC programs on campus. Because Obama has been critical of the don’t ask/don’t tell policies enacted by Congress, he may reduce the enforcement of these anti-gay rules. But it’s not clear if this would satisfy the requirements of most colleges to maintain control over curriculum and faculty hiring. However, it is unlikely that an Obama Administration would strictly enforce the Solomon Amendment and compel colleges to adopt ROTC programs or face a cutoff in federal funds.