In the wake of November’s midterm elections, Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) was appointed this past January as Chair of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning, and Competitiveness. She takes over from Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX), who chaired the subcommittee during the 111th Congress. Though she is undoubtedly qualified to chair the committee, some of her recent comments indicate that she may pose serious resistance to the President’s educational goals.
Congresswoman Fox’s professional background fits nicely with this position. She holds a Doctorate of Education from UNC-Greensboro and, prior to launching her legislative career, held both faculty and administrative positions at Appalachian State University. She also served as President of and, later, consultant to Mayland Community College (NC) before entering the North Carolina Senate in 1994. In addition to her recent appointment and her education credentials, Foxx is a member of the powerful House Rules Committee, and she previously gained notoriety in 2009 during House debate over the Matthew Shepard Act, when she referred to the characterization of Shepard’s murder as a hate crime as a “hoax” (a statement that she retracted soon afterward).
Foxx’s appointment comes on the heels of a legislative session that yielded significant changes in the country’s higher education policy; the Healthcare and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, as implemented, included provisions that eliminated federal subsidies for private lenders and invested billions into the Pell Grant program, the federal government’s need-based financial aid system. The Act also included $2 billion to expand the nation’s community college system, one of the principal higher-education goals of the Obama Administration.
It appears, though, that Congresswoman Foxx is poised to take a hard look at some of these reforms in her new leadership role. The Chronicle of Higher Education points out that Foxx has publicly opposed President Obama’s proposed expansion of the system, stating that she is “curious to find out what the basis is for the claim that we have to graduate five million more people.” Congresswoman Foxx also expressed concern over the Act’s education loan reforms. As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan explained in a February op-ed, the Act eliminates federal subsidies for banks that provide education loans, meaning that taxpayers no longer foot the bill when students are unable pay. Congresswoman Foxx, however, counters that direct lending from the Department of Education eliminates “choice, competition, and innovations from student lending.”
Though her positions may seem odd given her significant experience within the education and community college systems, Foxx’s stance is likely motivated more by House Republicans’ general commitment to cut government spending than by a genuine suspicion of the value of community colleges or financial aid. Still, in continuing to push his ambitious higher education reforms, President Obama will likely face significant resistance from the newly appointed Congresswoman Foxx as the 112th Congress gets underway.