NAICU Washington Update

DeVos Faces Senate HELP Committee En Route to Confirmation

January 25, 2017

Amid growing partisan rancor over policy positions and past financial contributions, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) has delayed the confirmation vote for Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos by one week. 

The HELP Committee received DeVos’ full ethics report from the Office of Government Ethics on January 20. In response, Democrats called for a second hearing to question the nominee. Although the request was denied, a compromise was reached to push back the confirmation vote by one week in order to allow senators additional time to review the ethics report.

The vote is now scheduled for January 31.  If cleared by the HELP Committee, the nomination will move to consideration by the full Senate at a later date.

DeVos faced the Senate HELP Committee on January 17 for a nomination hearing that was unusually contentious for the position of Secretary of Education. Though most of the questioning and testimony focused on elementary and secondary education policy, DeVos revealed a few aspects of how she intends to use the Education Department to implement her vision of American higher education. 

Opening Statement

In her opening statement, DeVos said escalating tuition was “pricing aspiring and talented students out of college.” She also cited the need to address “why tuition has gotten so high” and specified that student debt burden was a challenge that she must remedy as Secretary.   

To confront rising costs and debt loads, DeVos called for the nation to “embrace new pathways to learning” and called into question the long held belief that a college degree is the only avenue to a better life. The nominee mentioned trade and vocational schools, and community colleges, as important pathways to postsecondary success.  She pledged to work with Congress to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

Questions from Senators

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA):  Focused on regulatory reform, Sen. Isakson called on DeVos to implement many of the deregulation proposals contained in the Task Force on Federal Regulation of Higher Education. The senator also called on DeVos to work towards the simplification of the FAFSA.  DeVos agreed to work on deregulation and said FAFSA simplification was an important priority for the Trump Administration.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT): Sen. Sanders focused on his free public college plan and asked the nominee whether she would support the proposal. While DeVos reiterated her commitment to making higher education more affordable, she did not agree with the free public college plan. 

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT): Sen. Hatch I focused on increasing transparency regarding loan repayment data, which he finds to be confusing and non-uniform. In responding, DeVos restated a desire to examine college costs, as well as a willingness to work towards more uniform methods of reporting on student debt repayment. 

Sen. Robert Casey (D-PA): Sen. Casey focused on sexual assault on college campuses. He called on DeVos to confirm her commitment to addressing campus sexual assault and asked about her position on the 2011 Title IX guidance. DeVos agreed that addressing sexual assault on college campuses—or anywhere—is a priority, but remained noncommittal on the 2011 guidance. 

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS): Sen. Roberts cited a recent roundtable discussion with several college presidents and business leaders, in which the participants called on the Congress to take steps towards the deregulation of higher education. Citing the Task Force on Federal Regulation of Higher Education report, he asked DeVos to implement the recommendations as quickly as possible. The nominee once again committed to higher education deregulation in order to “help free our institutions of higher learning to the greatest extent possible” from burdensome regulations. 

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC): Sen. Scot discussed his passion for career and technical education programs, as well as the nation’s “bachelor’s addiction which might not be best for students.” DeVos agreed with Senator Scott’s passion for career and technical education and reiterated her desire for a wider array of postsecondary options for students.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA): Focused on the administration of the federal student aid programs, Sen. Warren questioned the nominee’s experience in running a large financial enterprise. She also questioned the commitment of the nominee to protecting students from fraud and abuse, and bad actor institutions, particularly through the enforcement of the gainful employment rules. While DeVos did not commit to enforcing the gainful employment regulations, she did promise to review the regulations to gauge their merit. 

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME): Sen. Collins briefly discussed working on a college campus and her support for college success programs, such as TRIO, which help students work towards graduation. The nominee praised the TRIO program and offered to look to ways to replicate its success with other college completion programs. 

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