- The American Council on Education, higher education’s top lobby, named Wednesday a replacement for Terry Hartle, a prolific and well-known policy guru who led the organization’s government relations efforts for nearly three decades.
- Jonathan Fansmith, assistant vice president of government relations, will take over Hartle’s senior position Feb. 1. He currently heads ACE’s advocacy in areas such as congressional spending and reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the major federal vehicle for postsecondary ed policy.
- Notably, in recent years, Fansmith spearheaded efforts to secure around $78 billion in federal coronavirus relief funding, money widely considered to have insulated colleges from more egregious institutional budget cuts during the pandemic.
Fansmith will be charged with representing the policy interests of many American colleges, a tall order given their often competing priorities and needs.
He takes over this work during upheaval within the federal government. A slim Democratic majority in the Senate and Republican one in the House all but ensures continued gridlock over comprehensive policy packages.
The strife has been on full display over the last several weeks, as the House devolved into chaos trying to elevate Kevin McCarthy as speaker, which it only managed to do after 15 attempts.
For colleges, congressional paralysis would mean most major policy changes stem from executive action. The Biden administration has mapped out an ambitious regulatory agenda, intending to issue proposed rules on topics like accreditation and distance learning.
The makeup of Congress also dampens chances that lawmakers will reauthorize the Higher Education Act. This has been toward the top of ACE’s wishlist for some time, as the last comprehensive rewrite occurred in 2008.
Policy experts say Congress needs to substantially rework the law to address problems such as the beleaguered federal student loan system, which is saddled with a more than $1.6 trillion debt portfolio with flawed methods for distressed students to secure loan cancellation.
Hartle told Higher Ed Dive last year reauthorizing the law looks “impossible to accomplish.”
Hartle had joined ACE in 1993 after six years as a top aide within what was then the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, chaired at the time by the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy.
He announced his retirement in September. Hartle is prominent in the higher ed world, often serving as a translator of a complex web of education policy to the masses.
Fansmith, meanwhile, formerly was president of the Committee for Education Funding, a group that describes itself as “the oldest and largest coalition of education associations in existence.” He often provides media interviews on ACE’s behalf and hosts its dotEDU podcast, which dives into higher ed policy questions.
“Jon’s vast knowledge, wealth of experience, and considerable strategic savvy will provide ACE and the higher education community with the expertise needed to navigate in a proactive manner the maze of federal higher education policy,” ACE President Ted Mitchell said in a statement.