Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to The Daily Signal this week about her efforts to restore local control of education, the Trump administration’s priorities for higher education, and the rising support of socialism among young people. An edited transcript of the interview is below. Full audio of the interview is available on The Daily Signal Podcast.
Rob Bluey: For the past five decades, we have seen the federal government’s involvement in education increase. Now, under the Trump administration, you’ve taken some steps to restore some of that control back to local communities. Can you outline some of the highlights?
Betsy DeVos: Yes, I’d be happy to.
It started with rolling back a number of regulations that were very broad overreaches on the part of the former administration. But it also goes to the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which Congress passed in the end of 2015, but it’s really only getting implemented this year.
And I think that the Democrats were counting on Hillary [Clinton] being in the White House because they, in the previous administration, wrote a whole bunch of regulations in addition to the actual statute that were going to place undue and overreach burdens on states. So that was all rescinded, rolled back, right at the start of this administration.
And we are on the proactive side of things, pointing out to states and local communities the inherent flexibilities that Congress wrote into that statute. So very important opportunities that we’re urging states and communities to take advantage of.
We’ve produced a parent guide to, again, bring the focus back to … These are parents’ decisions and parents have to be integrally involved in these discussions.
Bluey: I know one of the issues that goes alongside that is school choice and giving parents the flexibility to choose the best situation for their children. What is the Trump administration doing with regard to school choice?
DeVos: Sure, and I should have mentioned on your previous question the extension or the broadening of 529 savings plans, which, of course, provides a huge opportunity for families to take advantage of, for now, K-12 education as well. And as we are continuing to look at ways to complement what the states are doing, states really have to take the lead on this and policies within each state.
There are now over 54 different choice programs that have been implemented in states and over a half-million students taking advantage of them.
There are now over 54 different choice programs that have been implemented in states and over a half-million students taking advantage of them. But we have to look for ways not for the federal government to step in and in any way take over what states are doing, but anything the federal government does should No. 1, not be a mandate, and No. 2, complement or have the potential to complement and augment what states are doing.
Bluey: One of the reasons that parents like that flexibility is the concern about what their students, their children, are learning in schools. And we’ve seen recently some polling to indicate that socialism is on the rise in terms of a belief system that many young people seem to be clamoring for. And you even see it in some of the Democratic politicians in our country.
Do you believe this is a cause of the education system and some of the beliefs that are being taught to students? Or is there another factor why they are gravitating toward such a destructive force like socialism?
DeVos: I think it’s really a combination of things. I think, No. 1, students aren’t getting the kind of foundation in civics and government that I recall getting as a student in K-12 education. And they’re coming then into higher education without the background to even know and understand competing ideas, and then without the ability to discuss and debate them.
No. 1, students aren’t getting the kind of foundation in civics and government that I recall getting as a student in K-12 education.
I recall visiting a classroom not too long ago where one of teachers was wearing a shirt that said, “Find Your Truth,” suggesting that, of course, truth is a very fungible and mutable thing instead of focusing on the fact that there is objective truth and part of learning is actually pursuing that truth.
So roll it back, there is a very important need for students to know the foundations of our country and the ideas around which our country was formed. And to then have the ability to discuss and debate those ideas freely on their K-12 campuses and on their higher ed campuses.
Bluey: You mentioned higher ed. Under your leadership, you’ve tried a few things to make improvements in the higher ed environment. Can you outline what the Trump administration’s priorities are when it comes to higher education?
DeVos: This administration is very focused on expanding the pathways to higher education. We’ve had almost a singular focus for decades on four-year college or university as being the only path to a successful adult life. We know that not to be true.
This administration is very focused on expanding the pathways to higher education.
We know today there are 6.7 million jobs going unfilled that require that some kind of learning beyond high school, and yet there’s a mismatch. Students aren’t finding out about these opportunities, and they aren’t pursuing them because everything is very siloed when it comes to post-secondary education.
We are focused on expanding those pathways on reforming accreditation and other regulations that really have constrained higher ed across the board from innovating in the higher education arena.
I talk with those who have been innovators in higher ed, and they say the biggest impediment is the antiquated accreditation system and all of the regulations surrounding that. We’re going to be undertaking rule-making in that regard, and we’re going to continue to push and encourage the opportunities that these creative individuals have to meet students where they’re at and meet them for the needs of the 21st century.
Bluey: And on that note, final question for you today is regarding college cost because we hear about student debt and all the issues that they face once they get a degree. What is the Trump administration doing, and are there innovative things that you’ve seen in higher ed where you can address some of these issues when it comes to the high cost of a higher education?
DeVos: Well, one of the things that we’re doing is taking the framework for Federal Student Aid and modernizing it. We’re calling it Next Gen FSA. And we have taken, first of all, the FAFSA application and put in on a mobile device. You can now complete your FAFSA form on your smartphone.
And we’re going to be continuing to add more relevant information to that app so you’ll be able to know exactly what your student loan outstanding balance is. You will be reminded along the way of options you have for repayment to encourage you to take responsibility for doing so.
So that, plus a lot of other information that’s going to be at your fingertips, hopefully will help cultivate a lot more financial literacy around higher ed and the costs associated with that.
And then on the other side of things, again, opening up the opportunities for creativity and innovation in higher education is going to continue to change the cost calculations.
My visit to Georgia Tech a couple weeks ago gave a very current example of that. They have implemented a master’s of computer science program, which they were hesitant to do because they felt it was going to bring some, perhaps, negative implications to their on-campus programs.
Actually, what happened was they have several thousand students who will be graduating with their master’s in computer science. They’ve been able to take their classes and do the programming as it worked for their schedules and doing it, a master’s, all for about $7,000.
Bluey: Thank you for sharing that story. It’s the stories like that we like to highlight at The Daily Signal, and we appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today.
DeVos: Thanks, Rob, it’s a pleasure.