Faculty members are unsure of what President-elect Donald Trump’s administration will mean for higher education, despite the recent announcement of his nomination of Betsy DeVos as education secretary on Nov. 23 .
Other than her history of donating to institutions of higher education in her home state of Michigan, relatively little is known about her views on higher education.
Laura Perna, chair of the Higher Education Division at the Graduate School of Education, said DeVos’ focus within education has been in K-12 schools. There, her work has been oriented toward private school vouchers and school choice. This, Perna said, is known as a “market-based approach.”
Although there was some talk about risk-sharing and income-based repayment of loans, “there wasn’t really a platform around higher education” for the Trump administration, Perna said.
One of the things that may happen given the market-based orientation of Trump and his proposed education secretary is the deregulation of for-profit institutions. “From a higher education perspective, that is something, we really need to be paying attention to,” Perna said.
“Many for-profit institutions have low completion rates, they have high rates of borrowing, high rates of default on loans for students who borrow,” she added.
Marybeth Gasman, another professor within GSE’s Higher Education Division, published an op-ed on LinkedIn Pulse on Nov. 28 critiquing Trump’s choice of DeVos and raising concerns about financial support services provided by the federal government to college students, like the Pell Grant and the Guaranteed Student Loan Program.
“Will she value and expand the Pell Grant program? What will happen to the Guaranteed Student Loan Program with a free market economy administration?” Gasman wrote in her piece.
Perna called Pell Grants “very important” in terms of promoting access to college and allowing students from low-income families to have flexibility to choose among colleges.
This is not the first time a secretary of education has lacked a background in higher education. Arne Duncan, President Barack Obama’s secretary of education, focused on K-12 prior to his appointment.
“Having a secretary of education who is focused on K-12 isn’t necessarily unusual,” Perna said.
Though DeVos’ background is far from irregular, Perna said this lack of focus on higher education distinguishes her from a choice under a Democratic candidate such as Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton.
With Clinton and Sanders, Perna said there was talk of “so many initiatives to make higher education affordable.”
Gasman expressed concerns about lack of funding and attention for low-income students and students of color, citing DeVos’ “lack of understanding of the societal issues linked to American education.”
In her piece, Gasman also agreed with Perna’s observation that Trump’s platform in general did not touch on education, apart from vouchers and charter schools.
“If you review the Republican platform for 2016, there is hardly a word about education,” she wrote.