Secretary DeVos and Community Colleges

Betsy DeVos, as widely reported, has received confirmation by the U.S. Senate to serve as the Secretary of Education. There is abundant controversy over her pick by President Trump, but the focus here will be on our customary turf, community colleges.

The best coverage of the two-year college angle with Secretary DeVos is from Andrew Kreighbaum, writing in Inside Higher Ed. (You can also find reporting in the piece on Title IX and campus sexual harassment, teacher preparation, vouchers, and charter schools. These issues are important and worthy of attention.)

For community colleges, the most salient policy to watch is the federal government’s posture toward the for-profit sector of higher education, which experienced a significant shift during the Obama Administration. Proprietary schools were required to demonstrate that their advertised claims of student job placement are borne out by reality, in “gainful employment.” Some for-profit schools went bankrupt, once they were denied access to student financial aid programs. Many observers predict that the for-profit sector will come roaring back under Secretary DeVos. If so, students may be persuaded to enroll in a for-profit rather than a local community college. Occasionally the courses offered by proprietary schools are similar, if not identical, in content to what is offered by two-year institutions at a fraction of the cost.

From the article:

[Director of federal relations and policy analysis with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Barmak] Nassirian, a frequent critic of for-profit colleges, said it appears the Trump administration will be more sympathetic to that sector and the student loan servicing sector. The Obama administration introduced a number of regulations to step up accountability of for-profits that receive revenue from federal financial aid.

Those regulations, which the department pursued independently of any congressional mandate, came under frequent attack from Republicans in Congress. Whereas Obama’s second secretary of education, John B. King Jr., made no bones about aggressive oversight of for-profits, it’s likely the department will be less active in that role under DeVos. Jeff Andrade, a senior adviser with the McKeon Group who has previously worked at the department and for GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill, said DeVos would find power through the secretary’s bully pulpit to highlight problems that conservative critics have found with the department’s current approach.

“Most casual observers will take a look at the Obama administration’s position with respect to for-profits and come to the conclusion that a lot of it was bureaucratic and regulatory overreach,” he said. “A lot of it was done without congressional input, without congressional leadership and in many cases without a legislative mandate.”

Even after receiving intense scrutiny from Democrats, DeVos has made few policy commitments on issues like student loan policy and implementation of gainful employment rules or other oversight measures in the for-profit sector. But it’s likely that she will find more areas of agreement with Republican congressional leaders than did her Democratic predecessor, [Secretary] King.