7 higher education trends to watch in 2023

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The 2023 calendar year is the first since COVID-19 arrived when every higher education trend doesn’t have to be viewed through a pandemic lens.

Effects of the coronavirus crisis linger, but new topics are taking center stage, like potential reworks to the federal financial aid system, as well as fresh scrutiny — and the rejection of — U.S. News & World Report’s highly influential college rankings. 

As Higher Ed Dive looks ahead to the new year, we anticipate keeping you updated on these seven stories, plus whatever else the new year brings.

Efforts to fix financial aid in the limelight

Calls for colleges to be more transparent about their financial aid offers have come from most corners of the higher education world — lawmakers across the political spectrum, associations and consumer-protection advocates.

Students and their families who receive financial assistance often have to decipher a complex web of aid sources, including federal loans, grants and work-study, which can leave them guessing how much they’ll actually end up paying.

The issue seemed to come to a head toward the end of 2022, as 10 higher education organizations late in November said they would convene a task force aimed at standardizing financial aid information. 

Following the associations’ announcement, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog, dropped a bombshell report finding that more than 9 in 10 colleges downplay their net price or don’t offer any details about it in financial aid offers. 

Republicans were angry. Rep. Virginia Foxx, a leading candidate to be the new chair of the House’s education committee, called the GAO’s findings “egregious and unacceptable.”

Foxx also promoted the College Cost Transparency and Student Protection Act, a Republican-led bill that would call on the U.S. education secretary to establish consistent terms and definitions for financial aid. 

Some experts also expect the U.S. Department of Education to propose financial aid standardization regulations, as the Biden administration has moved to establish several rules thus far that aim to shore up flaws in the student aid system. 

Student loan forgiveness keeps center stage

U.S. higher ed may have gained the widest attention in 2022 for President Joe Biden’s plan to wipe away broad amounts of student loan debt for individual borrowers earning up to $125,000.

Each borrower was set to receive up to $10,000 in debt forgiveness — $20,000 if they got a federal Pell Grant in college. The move intended to assuage Democrats’ progressive flank, some of whom had called on the president to cancel more debt. It also acknowledged continued financial pain points from the pandemic. 

However, lawsuits ground the plan to a halt. Rulings in federal lawsuits paused it while raising questions about whether the administration had overreached its authority. Now, debt forgiveness sits before the U.S. Supreme Court, which expedited the case and expects to hear oral arguments in February. 

Legal experts have expressed doubts the conservatives who dominate the high court will back uniliteral debt forgiveness. Conservatives generally argue the debt forgiveness plan is financially reckless and spits in the face of taxpayers who did not attend college.

Meanwhile, Biden extended a pandemic-era pause on loan repayments while the Supreme Court hears the case. The moratorium, which had been scheduled to expire at the end of 2022, will now last until 60 days after litigation is resolved or 60 days after the end of June — whichever comes first.

The attempt at debt forgiveness looks to have ramifications regardless of whether it ultimately succeeds. Foxx in September said she would investigate whether Biden administration officials who worked on the plan would personally benefit from the money.