Despite the fact that Betsy DeVos has zero teaching experience and has never served in public office and has even called the education system in the U.S. a “monopoly” and a “dead end,” she is the current nominee for the Secretary of the Department of Education.
Much of the focus on DeVos has been around her unrelenting support of charter schools; schools infamously known for being loosely regulated. And to be fair, there may be a case for charter schools.
A 2013 study by CREDO, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, in which they examined charter schools in 26 states, shows that about a quarter of students in charter schools are outperforming their peers in public schools in both reading and math. However, the rest of charter students are performing at the same level or worse as their peers in public schools, so it is not an open and shut case.
It is also important that we focus on her position in regards to higher education, largely because it is not very clear. I cannot stress how important it is that college students understand her position on higher education and whether she supports many of the Education Department’s roles, like disbursing financial aid to students of good merit and those whose families cannot afford tuition.
Between 2015 and 2016, an estimated 7.6 million college students received Pell grants, totaling about $28 billion. Personally, without federal grants, I would not be attending Kansas State as a first generation college student. The statistics show that I am not alone.
Right now, many students who rely on federal aid to attend college, like myself, are questioning if they will be able to graduate. They fear that DeVos will lower the amount of federal aid to students or keep it at a constant rate while doing nothing to stop the ever-increasing rate of college tuition.
At her confirmation hearing, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) asked whether she would work with him and others to make changes to work toward tuition-free public universities.
“Senator, I think that is a really interesting idea and it’s really great to consider and think about,” DeVos said. “But we also have to consider the fact that there is nothing in life that’s truly free. Somebody has got to pay for it.”
Setting aside her ludicrous statement that nothing is free — her father-in-law Richard DeVos co-founded Amway and is worth an estimated $5.3 billion — Sanders has actually proposed a bill known as the “Robin Hood Tax” to pay for higher education in the U.S.
The tax would impose small speculation fees on Wall Street investments and trading, placing “a financial transaction tax of just 0.5 percent on stock trades (50 cents for every $100), a 0.1 percent fee on bonds and a 0.005 percent fee on derivatives,” all of which would generate around $300 billion a year. The total spending on higher education in the U.S. is around $75 billion a year.
So, while DeVos and other pro-school-choice advocates say that we cannot make higher education free, that is simply not true.
When it comes to the Education Department’s gainful employment regulation, a law requiring “most for-profit programs and certificate programs at private non-profit and public institutions prepare students for ‘gainful employment in a recognized occupation,’” it is again unclear where DeVos stands.
Asked by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) if she would enforce the regulation, DeVos said she would be “very vigilant” and that she will “review that rule and see.”
This is not an acceptable answer from someone who will be in charge of regulating schools, specifically for-profit scam schools like Vatterott.
Attorney David Halperin wrote in his article for The Huffington Post, “In 2009 and 2010, three top Vatterott executives pleaded guilty to a criminal conspiracy to fraudulently obtain federal student grants and loans for ineligible students in 2005-2006 by providing false general equivalency diplomas (GEDs) and doctoring financial aid forms.”
While the Obama Administration has held schools like Vatterott accountable, it is not certain the Trump Administration will do the same if Betsy DeVos is confirmed as Secretary of the Department of Education.
Caleb Snider is a sophomore in public relations. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.