#8: What does Betsy DeVos mean for higher ed?

With little background in higher education, stakeholders wonder how the nominee for Education Secretary will impact policy.

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on November 29th of this year, was our #8 most popular story of the year. The countdown continues tomorrow with #7, so be sure to check back!]

School choice advocates likely let out a collective cheer when President-elect Donald Trump nominated conservative billionaire Betsy DeVos for U.S. Education Secretary, but the higher education community was left to wonder about the impact on its institutions.

The nomination was felt strongly at the K-12 level, where her advocacy for school vouchers pitted school choice advocates against those who feel vouchers funnel valuable tax dollars away from public schools and into parochial and unaccountable private schools. [Read the K-12 version: “Here’s what you need to know about Betsy Devos, likely Education Secretary.“]

But the impact DeVos might have on higher education has been less evident in the few days since her nomination, though this follows Trump’s lead, as he himself has been sparse on plans for higher education. [Read: “Who is the best president for higher education?“]

Overall, Trump has said he feels the federal government is too involved in education and policy.

His transition website says “a Trump Administration also will make post-secondary options more affordable and accessible through technology-enriched delivery models.”

(Next page: Lawmakers react to the nomination)

DeVos and Student Loan Debt

On his campaign website, Trump vows to “work with Congress on reforms to ensure universities are making a good faith effort to reduce the cost of college and student debt in exchange for the federal tax breaks and tax dollars.”

He also would “ensure that the opportunity to attend a two or four-year college, or to pursue a trade or a skill set through vocational and technical education, will be easier to access, pay for, and finish.”

DeVos will certainly be expected to address the ever-growing issue of burdensome student debt and loans.

Shortly before the election, Trump proposed a loan repayment program that maxes out at 12.5 percent of the borrower’s income. The program would forgive loans after 15 years of payments.

DeVos and the Higher Education Act

If her nomination is approved, DeVos also will play a role in the overdue reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

In a tweet calling DeVos “an excellent choice,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said he looks forward “to working with her on the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, giving us an opportunity to clear out the jungle of red tape that makes it more difficult for students to obtain financial aid and for administrators to manage America’s 6,000 colleges and universities.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., ranking member on the committee, said in a statement that she is looking “forward to meeting with Betsy DeVos and talking to her about her vision for the Department of Education and whether and how it includes expanding access to educational opportunities for students across the country.”

Murray specifically included higher education and a number of policy areas DeVos will surely address: “And any Secretary of Education needs to be ready to get to work with us to make college more affordable, tackle the crushing burden of student loan debt, and fight back against the scourge of campus sexual harassment, assault and violence.”

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Laura Ascione

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