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The Department of Education is responsible for the well-being and functionality of students who attend educational institutes from kindergarten through post-secondary schooling. Therefore, it is important to understand the department’s mission, their history, and the key roles involved within. It is also important to understand how the current administration is weaponizing the department to tear down the walls of education. Lastly it is important to hypothesize potential solutions that can be made to help the department solve crucial problems that are not only plaguing this administration, but administrations of the past as well.
The U.S. Department of Education (DoED) is one of the 15 departments that make up a President’s cabinet, the DoED's mission is to “promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.” (Education Department Mission, 2011). The department’s purpose is to collect and analyze data regarding student success, provide funding to school districts, monitor discrimination in schools from kindergarten up through post-secondary education, examine possible Title IX rule violations, and provide federal student aid.
(Abby Jackson, 2016)
Developed in 1867, The Bureau of Education collected data on schools to help establish strong education systems. (Department of Education, 2016; Goldin, 1999). The duties remained the same until Education was merged with Health and Welfare to create the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) in 1953. (Goldin, 1999). During the time that Education was a part of the HEW, major acts were passed that directly impacted how the HEW regulated and enforced educational legislation, including the GI Bill of Rights, The Higher Education Act of 1965, and The Education Act of 1972, which also adopted Title IX.
(Gladieux, King, & Corrigan, 2016) These acts created new regulations that the HEW enforced within all levels of education including higher education. In 1979, Congress and President Carter, along with the assistance of the National Education Association, established the Department of Education, a cabinet department that focuses entirely on education in America and serves the purposes stated above. (Stallings, 2002)
The Secretary of Education’s role is to oversee all activities within the DoED and act as a top adviser to the president, while recommending policy changes to accomplish the educational goals the administration has set. (OSODS Functional Statements, 2019) To this date, there have been 11 different secretaries that have served, all with the goal of changing the role of education in America. (Richmond, 2017) The first Secretary was Shirley Hufstedler, serving Jimmy Carter, and the most recent, Betsy DeVos, currently serving Donald Trump. (Richmond, 2017) Each Secretary, for better or worse, has imbued the department with their own experiences and ideas, shaping their vision for the future of education.
While the Secretary has the final say on what happens at the DoED, they work with Advisory Committees, Operational Committees, and Independent Organizations to develop educational implementations for the country. (Education Department Boards & Commissions, 2015) The committee provides insight and recommendations based on educational rights for different student groups, the accreditation process of different educational institutions, and develop important research to be examined by the DoED. (Education Department Boards & Commissions, 2015; The Governing Board, 2017) While committees don’t have the final say, they develop important information that the Secretary then uses to make decisions regarding the role of education in America.
Since coming to power, the Trump administration has implemented policies that are drastically undermining the role of education in America. Despite originally claiming that he had no real policies in place to change education, the reality was that due to the failure of his for-profit university, plus the nomination of DeVos, Trump signaled that he wanted to reduce the role that the federal government played in Education. (Anderson, 2018) This was never more evident than in the proposal for the 2018 federal budget, where the administration planned to cut 13.5% of the Department of Education’s budget, moving the money elsewhere. (Brown & Benner, 2017) On top of the financial prospect, the Trump administration has spent the last three years stripping away various rights that students need, not only to safely attend schools in this country, but also the ability to afford the institutions that provide the necessary skills needed to develop growth both as an individual and as a student. (Jimenez & Flores, 2019; Shireman, 2019; Braaten 2017)
DeVos was nominated late in 2016 and was approved by the senate with the slimmest of margins, needing the Vice President to provide a tiebreaking vote. Individuals were concerned not only due to her inexperience as it relates to education, but also due to her interest in rolling out school vouchers as a way for families to pay for education in a free market. (Barken 2017; Braaten, 2017) On top of these problematic issues, Devos stated at an event in 2016, “The fight against the education establishment extends to you too. The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think. They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you’re a threat to the university community.” (Jaschik, 2017) Overall the decisions regarding education in America are in her hands, and the rollbacks implemented during her time have grave consequences for students in this country.
The DeVos and Trump administration have been making significant changes over the last few years that affect a great number of students. Certain rule changes have been implemented regarding Title IX as they relate to funding and how educational institutions handle sexual assault on campus. A rule that was implemented “reduces school liability by narrowing the definition of sexual harassment, would allow schools to choose the burden of proof required for sexual assault cases, would dissuade survivors from reporting, and would bolster accused students’ rights over those of survivors.” (Jimenez & Flores, 2019) This ruling creates an environment in which students won’t feel as safe when reporting sexual assault, as schools won’t fear being punished by loss of funding if they don’t show great care when reviewing reports of sexual assault.
The Trump administration has also been rolling back regulations related to the financial effects of higher education. One such rule, the Gainful Employment rule, has been completely rolled back. The GE rule is necessary because it holds institutions liable if an average student can’t pay off their tuition debts due to low income. It forced institutions, especially for-profits, to be honest about their costs, and the income levels that students would expect to see after graduating that institution. (Shireman, 2019) A study conducted found that students at for-profit universities were 1.5% less likely to be employed and will earn an average 11% less than those who attend a public or private university. (Cellini & Turner, 2019) By rolling back the GE rule, for-profits do not have to show students information about incomes upon the completion of their program, which based on the study, can leave students with a large debt and less opportunities for paying it off. (Shireman 2019; Cellini & Turner, 2019)
Whether it is through the federal budget, Title IX, or rules like the Gainful Employment, the changes that the current administration have made are drastically affecting those who are striving for an education. By allowing educational institutions the ability to lie, discriminate, and even ignore sexual assault cases without the risk of losing federal funding, students are the casualties in the war the Trump administration is waging against education. (Jimenez & Flores, 2019; Shireman, 2019; Braaten, 2017)
In Paying the price: College Costs, Financial aid, and the betrayal of the American Dream, the idea is posed that while college is unaffordable because of costs of tuition and fees, there is another issue lurking that forces a great number of students to consider not attending college at all. “The debates about the cost of college often dismiss the importance of addressing living costs, suggesting they aren’t really educational expenses. But students have to pay for books, food, rent, and gas if they are to have any chance of succeeding in school.” (Goldrick-Rab, 2017). A study of community college students eligible for a Pell Grant revealed that 40% had low levels of food security, and 16% were homeless. (Goldrick-Rab, Richardson, & Hernandez, 2017) In that same study, it was suggested that the best way to help students reduce the stress of living was by promoting “degree completion by expanding the SNAP eligibility requirements for college students to allow all work-study eligible students (not only those receiving the very limited pool of work-study funds) to meet the work requirement, and reduce or eliminate the 20 hour per week requirement affecting many other students (or, count college attendance toward the work requirement).” (Goldrick-Rab, et al., 2019) This would give students who qualified extra money that they could use toward living costs and would alleviate them from the choice of whether food or education was more important.
Pete Buttigieg’s proposed tuition plan to help students afford the costs of college finds itself right in the middle of the democratic field. His proposal is to provide free college for those that need it. According to the candidate’s website, “Pete will make public tuition free for 80% of American families, including all families earning up to $100,000 and many middle-income families with multiple children. He will also provide substantial tuition subsidies for students from families earning up to $150,000 and require that states improve affordability for all students.” (Pete for America, 2019) He would pay for his plan by “increasing capital gains taxes for the top 1%, rolling back Trump tax cuts for the most wealthy, and trimming some health care costs.” (Nietzel, 2019) On top of this plan he also wants to “tie Pell Grants to inflation to keep up with rising tuition and living costs. This will ensure that after we've covered tuition for the lowest-income students, there is enough left over for basic necessities like housing and food.” (Pete for America, 2019) Buttigieg’s plans certainly consider the major problems that are currently plaguing higher education students today and have created solutions to halt those issues. The only thing that remains to be seen is if any of these plans will come to fruition.
As discussed in the paper. the Department of Education is a critical player in providing students the resources necessary to gain an education to succeed in this country. While the Trump administration is currently using the department as a pawn to limit the success of current students, there is hope. With this being an election year, many of the candidates have stepped forward and proposed solutions to solve problems not only created by the Trump administration, but other past administrations. The question that will be answered within the next year is if we will have four more years of Trump’s war on education, or if we will have a new president whose focus is to make education great again.
Anderson, E. (2018). Renegade Neoliberalism and Reactionary Politics: Donald Trump, Higher Education, and the Public Sphere. (dissertation).
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Braaten, D. B. (2017). Higher Education in the Age of Trump. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.augustana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1414&context=intersections
Brown, C., & Benner, M. (2017, September 5). The Stakes are too high to Ignore the Trump-DeVos Agenda. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED586240.pdf
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