Minister of Education Betsy DeVos blew the college agenda of the new Biden administration in what is likely the last major political speech, calling proposals like free college and student loan repayment “really insidious”.
“We’ve heard shrill calls to cancel, to give away, to do everything for free. Any harmless label out there can’t disguise what it really is: false,” she said Tuesday in her annual address to the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office . “Even more advanced is the truly insidious notion of government gifts.”
She warned that the policy would amount to government takeover and strengthen the world’s most prestigious higher education system.
“Mark my words,” she said, “neither of you would like how it will work.”
“American higher education is still the envy of the world because it is currently a competitive market that drives innovation and produces high quality results,” she said. “When the politicians who propose a free college find their way today, just watch our colleges and universities begin to resemble a failing K-12 school, and the DMV’s customer service at that.”
Editorial cartoons about education
DeVos also framed it for reasons of fairness.
“It is fundamentally unfair to ask two-thirds of non-college Americans to pay the bills for only one-third,” she said, citing the fact that about two-thirds of people enrolled in colleges are otherwise aim for a four-year degree. “And it’s even more unfair to those who stopped the end of the business and paid back their student loans themselves to subsidize those who don’t save, plan, and pay.”
The secretary’s remarks come as pressure mounts on President-elect Joe Biden to cancel student debts on the orders of the executive branch during the first week he is in office.
“President-elect Biden alone will have the ability to administratively cancel billions of dollars in student loan debt using the authority Congress has already given the Secretary of Education,” Massachusetts Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren said during a hearing on Tuesday of the Senate Banking Committee. “This is the most effective economic incentive that can be achieved through action by the executive branch.”
Other senior Democrats, including Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York asking Biden to cancel up to $ 50,000 in student loan debt; and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California have also publicly urged Biden to cancel student loan debt as one of his first acts as president.
While almost every Democrat running for president suggested some form of student loan and no tuition policy, the idea of wholesale debt relief and college exemption for everyone is not a single issue for Democrats, who adopt these policies with varying degrees of enthusiasm accept .
Some prefer to cancel student loans up to $ 10,000 or only for those in certain income brackets, while others prefer a free college specifically designed for enrollment in a community college and not extending to four-year public colleges and universities.
For example, Biden has proposed eliminating the cost of tuition and tuition at community colleges and eliminating $ 10,000 in student debt for all borrowers. He also put in place an earnings-based repayment plan capped at 5% of a person’s income, and for those pursuing a career in civil service, he had proposed up to five years of student debt for up to five years for each year of service to enact.
Compare that to Warren, who prefers to cut tuition and fees in public colleges and universities and eliminate student loan debt for 95% of borrowers.
Part of Biden’s hesitation comes from criticism of free college that not only is it expensive, but that wealthy families would benefit as much or even more from it than low- and middle-income families.
There is currently no solid evidence that wealthy students take advantage of the free college offerings that currently exist in more than 20 states. Most state free college programs are designed not to necessarily appeal to large numbers of students from wealthy families – for example, only for community colleges or for programs aimed at filling certain in-demand jobs.
But after the college admissions scandal that painted a portrait of higher education as a rigged system accessible only to the wealthiest and most elite families in the US, the notion that federal policies could further sustain them was difficult for some Democrats to fully embrace.
Telling reporters about his student loan forgiveness plan last week, Biden said, “It should be done immediately.”
Should Congress remain divided – with Democrats having a small majority in the House of Representatives and Republicans doing the same in the Senate – it is unclear how much legislative progress Biden could make on this matter other than what he can achieve through executive action, and even some question it.
Biden’s election as education secretary – likely this week – can say a lot about how much he plans to enforce these guidelines, especially if he selects someone in higher education through the K-12 room.