Virginia Foxx Back As Chair of House Education Committee

The Republican congresswoman from North Carolina pledged to put Biden’s Department of Education under a microscope over the next two years.
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  • Rep. Foxx previously served as head of this committee from 2017 to 2019.
  • She has been an outspoken critic of many of President Joe Biden’s actions directed at student loan debt.
  • Foxx is likely to launch investigations into the Department of Education.

President Joe Biden better brace himself – one of the fiercest critics of his higher education policies is back in a key oversight role in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina will again chair the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in the new Congress. Foxx previously held the position from 2017 to 2019 and then served as the Republican ranking member on the committee when Democrats controlled the chamber.

She immediately took a shot across the bow of the Biden administration, upon retaking the chair.

“To officials in the Biden administration: think about investing in a parking space on Capitol Hill - you will be here often. Conducting vigorous and sustained oversight of the federal government, especially the Departments of Education and Labor, will be among my top priorities,” Foxx said in a statement. “We must stop this administration’s reckless and destructive regulatory agenda.”

Foxx has been critical of Biden’s plan to cancel federal student loan debt for most borrowers in recent months, calling it an “illegal, disgraceful action."

She has also been critical of recently proposed changes to federal student loan payment plans, including a new income-driven repayment (IDR) plan and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. Last June, she voiced opposition to Biden’s proposed rewrite of the Title IX regulations, calling it a conduit to "the Left's woke agenda."

Despite her experience leading this committee, Foxx wasn’t a shoo-in to lead it in this new Congress. GOP conference rules term-limited her ability to remain in party leadership, so she needed a waiver to serve as chair once more, and Rep. Tim Walberg, a Republican representing Michigan, challenged her for the chairmanship.

What Does This Mean for Higher Ed?

Foxx’s return to the chair is noteworthy, but the extent to which she can force through policy changes is limited because Republicans only control the House.

The chairs of House committees still hold stand-alone power, however. Foxx will set the agenda for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce over the next two years, and she’ll be able to call for congressional hearings and investigations.

Foxx sent 139 oversight letters to agencies during the previous Congress.

With nearly two decades served in Congress, her past may leave clues as to what she’ll prioritize as chair.

Disdain for Federal Student Loan Forgiveness

As ranking member, Foxx was a primary driver in Republicans’ crusade to stop Biden’s plan to wipe out large swaths of federal student loan debt.

Two court cases are set to appear before the U.S. Supreme Court in February, which will likely decide the program's future.

Those cases appear unlikely to impact Foxx’s opposition to Bioden's proposal, and her power to call in White House officials for oversight hearings could lead to an investigation into how the loan forgiveness program came about.

Foxx last June co-signed a letter to the U.S. Office of Government Ethics Director Emory Rounds asking whether there was a conflict of interest in Biden officials creating the plan if they would benefit from loan forgiveness.

“We are especially concerned that this policy may have been promulgated by White House staffers who stand to financially benefit from the decision,” she wrote. “Public officials should never use their office to unjustly enrich themselves, and such behavior would directly violate the ethics pledge that President Biden implemented for all political appointees.”

Foxx Is Also Against Targeted Forgiveness Programs

Foxx’s animosity toward loan forgiveness goes beyond Biden’s plan for widespread debt cancellation.

She also recently spoke out against the newly proposed IDR plan, which she called a “backdoor” to free college. Under that proposal, borrowers could more easily qualify for $0 monthly payments and complete forgiveness after 20 years without defaulting.

She is also opposed to PSLF, which grants loan forgiveness to public servants after 10 years of repayment and last August proposed a bill to eliminate the program altogether.

In October 2021, she sent ED Secretary Miguel Cardona a letter asking the department to work with Congress to reform PSLF rather than institute a waiver that would cancel loans for a wider swath of borrowers.

Free Speech Concerns

Foxx co-penned a letter in September to Cardona in which she expressed concern that “colleges and universities are undermining free speech and academic freedom on their campuses.”

That letter also called out ED, alleging the department “does not seem to be engaged in promoting the free exchange of ideas within our colleges and universities.” She added that “threatening speech” is tolerated at some institutions when it is “left-leaning orthodoxy.”

Foxx’s assertions echo others in her party who say conservative voices are being silenced at colleges and universities across the U.S.

Transparency in Higher Education

Foxx has a complicated track record on the issue of transparency in higher education.

She recently made headlines after the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that only 9% of the institutions it examined accurately told students the estimated net price of attendance. Foxx requested the report and quickly introduced the College Cost Transparency and Student Protection Act. Her bill would force institutions that receive federal funds to list both direct costs and indirect costs like housing and books in financial aid offers.

The bill failed to pass, as Congress had just a few weeks to pass it during December’s lame-duck session.

However, it would have been a transparency win.

Foxx’s track record on transparency is more fraught, however.

Shelbe Klebs, formerly the education policy advisor at the think tank Third Way, previously told BestColleges that Foxx has been a staunch opponent of the College Transparency Act (CTA) for many years. She expects Foxx to remain an obstacle for CTA, and now Foxx has the power to prevent the bill from ever reaching the committee’s agenda.

Klebs added that Foxx was a key reason that a prohibition of a student information database was included in 2008’s reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

CTA would repeal this part of the Higher Education Act.