Three ways James Kvaal can lead postsecondary education forward

Three ways James Kvaal can lead postsecondary education forward
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President BidenJoe BidenBiden nominates Mark Brzezinski to be U.S. ambassador to Poland 10 dead after overloaded van crashes in south Texas Majority of New York state Assembly support beginning process to impeach Cuomo: AP MORE recently announced his nomination of James Kvaal, an expert in postsecondary education policy, for one of the top posts in the U.S. Department of Education. As under secretary, Kvaal will sit at the helm of federal postsecondary education policy at a moment when the calls for action from the department are louder and more forceful than ever. He could either work to enable the dramatic movement that the left is calling for, or hobble it in favor of more incremental changes. History suggests it will be the latter. Kvaal is known for his ability to separate politics from policy, leverage practical thinking, and work with those across the aisle.

Kvaal’s nomination should be no surprise. He has a reputation of taking thoughtful, measured positions on policy. This approach is in line with Biden’s moderate positioning on postsecondary education. Despite leading a left-leaning organization — the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) — Kvaal refrained from jumping on the bandwagon to call for widespread student loan forgiveness. Although his left-of-center positioning on many issues may be disappointing for those who want radical action from the department on student loans, the rest of America should be encouraged by his track record of compromise and look forward to his direction of postsecondary education policy. 

As a former Capitol Hill colleague of Kvaal’s and a national postsecondary education policy expert, we both stand in support of his nomination. We believe there are three policy areas where he can create bipartisan momentum on behalf of the next generation of learners.


Accountability and student learning outcomes: We live in an era when data have become the currency for understanding the impact of federal programs. However, the nation still lacks a comprehensive, coordinated and connected data system that can support aspiring learners to make data-driven decisions about where to go to college and how much to pay. Kvaal has been outspoken on the need to repeal the 2008 federal ban on a student unit record system, which prevents the creation of such a tool. And he has acknowledged that the Obama administration fell short of addressing this issue during the development and implementation of the College Scorecard

A coordinated data system — one that includes statistics on employment and earnings outcomes following both academic programs and career-training pathways — would help aspiring learners make better choices when it comes to their education and also help policymakers, postsecondary education leaders and employers to assess quality. We urge Kvaal to take the lead and work with Congress to repeal the ban on the student unit record system, implement the College Transparency Act, and begin to apply standards of accountability across institutions, regardless of their tax status.

Innovative finance: As the former deputy domestic policy adviser to President Obama and the current president of TICAS, Kvaal is known for his support of income-based repayment plans. The tenets of income-based repayment are similar to private-market solutions, such as income-share agreements and other innovative financing tools, that have emerged in recent years. As supporters of quality free-market solutions in postsecondary education and training, we believe there is also room for innovative approaches to support learners who otherwise do not have access to federal financial aid programs or who want to make an alternative choice for themselves. Kvaal’s expertise of the income-based repayment program could aid congressional leaders in crafting protections for consumers and designing practical federal guardrails for innovative finance programs.

Deregulation of postsecondary education: Kvaal’s involvement in efforts to deregulate postsecondary education date to 2001. At the time, he was a policy adviser to Rep. George MillerGeorge MillerChicago hospital exec resigns after improper Trump Tower vaccine distribution Three ways James Kvaal can lead postsecondary education forward Keep the Capitol secure but open MORE (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, where he worked with a bipartisan coalition to rethink burdensome higher education regulations. In his role as a staffer, Kvaal was involved in both the regulatory and legislative efforts to ease the federal reporting burden on postsecondary education institutions. 

We believe the time is right for Congress and the Biden administration to enact a similar review of federal regulations. In light of recent innovations in the field of postsecondary education, we should reconsider both how we’re determining eligibility for federal aid programs and the burden that reporting requirements place on institutions. 


There is plenty of room for improvement in higher education policy, and despite a recent focus on the issues that divide us, we believe there is also room for bipartisanship and compromise. Kvaal is the right choice to lead through the morass of political noise in exchange for policies that support a growing generation of diverse learners. 

Beth Akers, Ph.D., is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and former staff economist with the Council of Economic Advisers during the George W. Bush administration. Follow her on Twitter @DrBethAkers.

Alison Griffin is a senior vice president with Whiteboard Advisors and served as a policy adviser to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce under then-Chairman John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying world A new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger MORE (R-Ohio) in 2001 and from 2003-2006. Follow her on Twitter @AlisonRGriffin.