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Trump Higher Education Policy?

March 7, 2017

In the absence of political appointments at the Assistant and Deputy Secretary level at the U.S. Department of Education, any discussion of the Trump Administration’s higher education policies must attach a question mark.

Last Tuesday, February 28, President Trump said in an interview on Fox News that he is not trying to fill administration positions that require Senate confirmation.

The President said, “A lot of those jobs, I don’t want to appoint someone because they’re  unnecessary to have. In government, we have too many people.”

The purpose of Presidential Appointees requiring Senate confirmation (PAS) is to give elected officials the opportunity to shape policy by appointing persons committed to the Administration in power.

In their absence, career civil service (bureaucrats) have legal authority and they are of two minds:  they want policies that give advantage to their bureaucracy or they want to block policies announced by the White House.

On Monday, March 7, a policy announcement was made by a career bureaucrat at the U.S. Department of Education, Lynn B. Mahaffie, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy, a position that does not require Senate confirmation.

Ms. Mahaffie announced that the Department would  “further review the GE regulations and their implementation.”

“GE” refers to the policy of “Gainful Employment” instituted by the Obama Administration and applied only to for-profit institutions.  That regulation requires that institutions participating in Title IV student subsidized loan and grant programs demonstrate that the cost of a degree or certificate program leads to “gainful” employment sufficient to enable students to repay their student loans.

Since this policy is one of the more odious regulations imposed by the Obama Administration, most of us had doubts that President Trump–who paid a $25 million fine for violation of government regulations governing the marketing of education programs–would take action in this area and grant relief to beleaguered for profit institutions.

Clearly, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Mahaffie didn’t arise from slumber yesterday morning and decide to make new policy.

Someone initiated that policy.  But, who?

Since U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos knows nothing about higher education regulations affecting for-profit institutions, somebody other than Secretary DeVos– in the Department or the White House–took the initiative.

Was it Stephen Bannon who seems to believe that policy should be shaped by political appointees or advisors selected by the White House?

Was it pressure from the lobby for the for-profit education industry, the Career Education Colleges and Universities?

Until the U.S. Department of Education has a full complement of political appointees, the Department is a ghost ship and higher education reform will be decided by “ghosts.”

That’s the message I presented to a meeting at the Heartland Institute on Wednesday, March 1.

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