Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland during 2017.

In a recent Politico interview covered by The Chronicle of Higher Education, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos suggested that the government took control of student loans largely as a way to pay for the Affordable Care Act. Needless to say, Sec. DeVos is under fire for the comment, but her saving grace is this was just a suggestion.

DeVos was responding to a reporter who asked a question about his six percent student loan interest rate; he compared the rate to his auto loan rate which was much lower. She said that it was a good question, and she expanded saying that the government took control of the student loan market immediately following the economic downturn which is on point so far.

Then the big statement was made when DeVos claimed, “And, the federalizing of student loans was ostensibly to help pay for Obamacare. So you’re helping to pay for Obamacare, I guess, with your student loans.”

The Department of Education did not expand on what DeVos meant by her statement. However, higher education policy experts think this development reveals a misunderstanding of how federal aid works by Education Secretary DeVos.

However, there is a saving grace in her statement if you dig into the vocabulary. It’s technically not an outright accusation because she used the term “ostensibly” which can be translated to “apparently, but perhaps not actually.”

This is why all sources are simply calling this a suggestion. It’s a pretty easy one to make, too. It was well known that federal student loans generate a profit for the government. Theoretically, student loans could have subsidized Air Force One jet fuel, but anyhow, it’s just a suggestion that’s easy to make with no real basis from facts.

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The statement could have been for any reason - ostensibly politically-driven, ostensibly her own opinion, or ostensibly thought up on the spot.

At any rate, other evidence contradicts her statement.

When the government moved to a direct lending program after the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, several documents point towards a motive other than funding ACA.

In fact, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the government could save an estimated $61 billion from subsidizing student loans, and these savings were subsequently used to increase the yearly Pell Grant award to $5,500.

This is not the first time DeVos has been accused of limited knowledge in the basics of education. At her Senate hearing in January, she stumbled through answers to fairly basic questions and cited grizzly bears as a reason for schools to be allowed to have guns on campus.

Betsy DeVos’ nomination for Secretary of Education was contentious right from the beginning with many bringing up her credentials, track record, and potential conflicts of interest, such as connections to the private sphere. The confirmation vote in the Senate was even controversial with Vice President Pence voting her in with the tie breaker according to the Student Loan Report. Her confirmation was the first tie-breaking vote for a Cabinet nominee in U.S. history.

image copyright © Gage Skidmore