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3 Ways the 2020 Election Affects College Admissions

With the 2020 election behind us and Biden administration about to take office, we can expect several changes in the world of college admissions. In this video, join CollegeVine co-founder Vinay Bhaskara as he discusses the the election’s impact on three components of college admissions: the cost of college, international students, and affirmative action.



Video Transcription




In today’s video, we’re going be talking about how the recently concluded presidential and U.S. government election could have a major impact on college admissions in 2020 and beyond. So, with that, let’s go and get started. Now, as I’m sure many of you know, unless you literally live inside of a rock somewhere, there was an election last week, I’m recording this on Monday, November 9th. And as of this time, according to CNN and many other sources, it looks like Joe Biden is going to be the next president of the United States.


Additionally, depending on the different resources you’re looking at, it appears as though the Democrats and Republicans are going to be very close in the Senate. It’s likely going come down to a runoff election in Georgia. But either way, you’re not going to get democratic control of the Senate. And it looks like Republicans have picked up a few seats in the House of Representatives.


Now, obviously, this is very important to the country at large. Regardless of which way you voted or who you supported during the election, the results of this election actually have a pretty big impact on the college admissions process. So, we’ll talk a little bit about three ways in which the outcome of the past election is going to potentially change the college admissions process for years to come.


The Cost of College 


So, the first key change I want to talk about is around student loans and paying for college. Joe Biden is a member of the Democratic Party, and the Democratic Party has a lot of plans to both reduce the cost of college and to potentially reduce the amount of student loan debt that’s held by people who have borrowed money, as well as people who borrow money in the future. Now, I’ve come over here to the Biden-Harris website to just take a look at the key elements of Joe Biden’s plan for education. But then I also want to talk about a little bit about which elements might be more possible or less possible, depending on who wins control of the Senate and of the House of Representatives.


Free Tuition at Public Universities


The first big thing that Joe Biden wants to do is make public colleges and universities tuition free for all families with income below $125,000. He also wants to double the maximum value of Pell Grants, which is the big federal financial aid grant that’s given out to students. Typically, the max value of Pell Grant today is about $6,000 per year. So, this would make the Pell Grant double in value to $12,000 per year. Essentially, the idea would be to increase the maximum value and then also give more people eligibility for the Pell Grants, including people who are dreamers.


Reducing Student Loan Debt


The next component is around student loans. Biden plans to more than halve payments on undergraduate federal student loans. He wants to cut the percentage of income used to pay back on your student loans from 10% to 20%+, to only 5% of your discretionary income, which is income minus taxes and essential spending, like housing and food.


This would make student loans much less expensive to manage and to pay off each and every month. Now, obviously, many of you out there are high school students, so you still haven’t gotten to this point yet. But this would actually make student loans much more manageable if you already have borrowed money, or if you borrow money in the future.


The last piece is forgiving student loans for anyone that goes into public service, such as government work or community service. The way this would work is you get $10,000 of student debt relief for every year of service up to five years. So, if you work for five years in the government or in the community organization, you would be eligible for up to $50,000 worth of student debt relief. Now, the caveat here is that this is what Joe Biden’s election platform says, but once he actually gets into office and has to work with whoever is in the House of Representatives, or Congress, as well as with the Senate, these things may change.


Will These Changes Pass in Congress?


Unfortunately, despite the fact that these would be really positive changes, it might be difficult for some of these plans to pass through Congress and the Senate, especially if the Senate is held by Republicans. In fact, pretty much all of these proposals require Republicans in the Senate or in the house to vote for these proposals. And so, unfortunately, it’s probably not likely that the Biden administration would be able to get these proposals passed unless they win control of the Senate in January’s elections in Georgia.


But there is one piece of his agenda that Joe Biden actually can do by himself, which is the student loan forgiveness. The President can actually forgive up to $50,000 worth of student loan debts via an executive order. That’s actually an interesting one because obviously, it’s very popular in the Democratic Party. There’s a chance that since it’s something he can do via an executive order, Joe Biden might actually pursue some amount of student loan debt relief. It might not be as much as $50,000 per student, but there could be some student debt relief.


International Students


The second area where the Biden and Harris administration is going to be a lot different in terms of education is in the treatment of international students. One of the things that has happened during the Coronavirus pandemic is that the Trump administration has either blocked or canceled visas for a lot of international students. It’s been very hard for international students to get visas for colleges, and that has bled over into this fall’s admissions process.


Fewer international students are applying to attend college in the United States because of all these visa issues, so you are seeing colleges have to shift more of their acceptances and more of their class towards domestic students. Once the Biden administration comes in, they’re likely to reverse that policy and they’re likely to become more friendly towards immigration. Again, that’s one of those things that they as a presidential administration could do, even without any sort of cooperation from Congress or the Senate.


Because of this, next year’s admissions for the 2021-2022 cycle and beyond are probably going to be a lot more competitive again for international students. And even during this cycle, you might see more international students apply to U.S. colleges in the next month and a half or so because they’re much more likely to get visas with the Joe Biden administration when they start next fall.

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Race and How It’s Used in College Admissions


The third big change that is likely to occur due to this election is potentially some difficulties and a reduction or a change in how race is used in college admissions. The use of race and ethnicity in college admissions is very controversial. It’s been the subject of many lawsuits and it’s been the subject of a lot of press and media on both sides of the issue. Whether it’s formal affirmative action programs like they have in many states such as Texas, or New Jersey, or it’s the informal use of race in the admissions process at schools, like Harvard or Yale or UNC-Chapel Hill, again, all which have seen lawsuits. Now, there’s two interesting changes that happen as a result of this sort of change in government due to the election.


California Proposition 16


The first is that in California, specifically, there was a proposition on the ballot for voters that would have allowed them to reinstate the use of affirmative action. Back in the 1990s, California voters actually voted to ban the use of race in college admissions at California public colleges. So, you’ll notice that the demographics of California public colleges are very different than the demographics of public colleges in a lot of other states. Regardless of whether you’re for or against this, California has had a very different system over the past two decades in terms of how it ran college admissions. There was much less use of race in the admissions process. It wasn’t stamped out entirely, but it was done in sort of very hidden and behind the scenes ways. And there was a much different treatment of affirmative action policies in California. Now, in this election, California had an initiative on the ballot which would have allowed the state’s public colleges to reverse that ban.


Basically, they could start using affirmative action again and they could start using race in the admissions process again. But California voters voted against that initiative. So, if you’re planning on applying to any school in the state of California, but particularly a public college in the state of California, there’s going to be no change to the way the admission processes worked relative to what it previously had. There is not going to be as much of a use of race in the admissions process by California public colleges.


A Conservative Majority on the Supreme Court


More broadly, when you look at the national level, one of the key results in this election is actually the Senate. Because either Republicans are going to hold on to the Senate, or maybe Democrats will have a very, very small majority in the Senate. And the reason this is impactful is obviously before the election, there was a lot of discussion around the Supreme Court. Right now, there’s a 6-3 majority for conservative justices on the Supreme Court, including 3 that were nominated by Donald Trump. That 6-3 number came about due to the unfortunate and tragic passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg right before the election, and then the addition of Amy Coney Barrett to the court. And so, now there are six conservative justices and three liberal ones.


Now, the reason this is important for college admissions is over the next couple of years, a bunch of different lawsuits that have come up related to the use of race in college admissions, are going to come before the Supreme Court. With the famous Harvard lawsuit, Harvard won the initial round of their lawsuits a couple of years ago, but the Asian-American lawsuit against Harvard is likely going to come up before the Supreme Court. If the court is a 6-3 conservative court, many legal analysts think it is likely that they will rule against Harvard and strike down the use of race in the admissions process at these colleges.


Now, had the Democrats won control of the Senate, they might have pushed back and added additional justice to the Supreme Court and created a different ideological balance on the court, which then might have caused the Supreme Court to rule differently. But because of the way the election turned out, and the fact that the Republicans either retain control of the Senate or come very close to it, it’s now more likely that affirmative action will be struck down because there’s no way for Democrats to make adjustments to the court. So, the impact of race on the admissions process, and the ways in which race are used the admission process, could change pretty remarkably over the next couple of years due to the 2020 election. And regardless of who you voted for, this is going to have a very, very big impact on colleges, and on the college admissions process.


So, with that, folks, I’m going go ahead and wrap up our video for today. As always, I want to thank you all for spending, you know, 10 to 15, sometimes 20 minutes with me as I talk about different topics and the impact that various things have on college admissions. We’ve got more great content coming for you each and every day. 


For more college news and application tips, check out our CollegeVine livestreams. Each day, we have admissions experts offer tips and strategies in live sessions, from essay reviews to career advice. Best of all, it’s free!


Short Bio
Asia is a graduate of Tulane University where she studied English and Public Health. She's held multiple writing positions and has experience writing about everything from furniture to higher education to nutrition and exercise.