Despite heavy opposition from Democrats and a couple of Republicans, Betsy DeVos was confirmed on Tuesday as the new Secretary of Education. After a 50-50 vote, Vice President Mike Pence cast his tie-breaking vote which was the first time in history the VP needed to step in to break a tie during a cabinet nomination.
Teachers, parents, and school administrators from all over the country strongly opposed DeVos, who was grilled during Senate committee hearings about her lack of experience in the education sector and her support of using public finding for private schools. She also made headlines for her thoughts on how certain schools might need a gun on hand in case of a grizzly bear attack.
Another point of concern: DeVos’s lack of experience with student loans. Neither she or anyone in her family needed financial aid or student loans to get through school, and it’s unclear how she plans on tackling this major issue. During confirmation hearings, DeVos made the false claim that student loan debt had grown 980% during the Obama administration, which wasn’t true. The reality is outstanding student loan debt has jumped by roughly 100% between 2008 and 2016.
As of 2016, Americans owe over $1.4 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among about 44 million borrowers. Many borrowers are drowning under the weight of their large monthly loan payment while potential students are putting off school out of fear of accumulating debt.
“It’s concerning,” Ben Miller, the senior director of postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, said during a recent interview with Market Watch, “because we can’t tell if she’s giving a bad performance or if she’s got bad staff behind her.”
The first test for DeVos is likely overseeing the contracting process currently under way to decide which private companies will take part in the student loan servicing system. The Obama administration began overhauling the system so that it better serviced borrowers’ needs, but it’s unclear whether Trump’s administration will continue with the process or abandon it completely. Another idea that remains to be expanded on is whether the Trump administration will usher in an era of private student loans by downscaling the federal loan program. While this is still a far off possibility today, there could be the possibility of a transition which private lenders would love to hear about. Furthermore, student loan forgiveness seems to be on the table with the administration change as well.
“The big concern is she is a neophyte in this area,” Miller said.
image copyright Ted Eytan