Universities must fight for financial aid

President Donald Trump’s secretary of education pick Betsy DeVos has never taken out a student loan.

Her four children have also never taken out student loans. She has no personal experience with the Pell Grant. This brings DeVos to a total of zero experience navigating federal financial aid, leaving her ill-equipped to lead the department which oversees it. 

DeVos admitted that her family was “fortunate” to have this experience, but this is a fortune unfathomable to the two-thirds of the nation’s students who rely on some form of financial aid to get through college. Approximately 34 percent of students utilize federal loan programs, and in the 2015-16 school year, 7.6 million students received the federal Pell Grant.

The rising cost of college (and corresponding rising levels of student loan debt) is one of the most pressing issues facing college campuses today. Appointing an Education Secretary who doesn’t understand this issue, has no experience dealing with it, and has no history of addressing it is problematic. The fact that DeVos did not even acknowledge or hint at understanding how difficult it is to afford college tuition suggests that she would not be the most enthusiastic supporter of financial aid once in office. 

Of course, just because DeVos doesn’t have personal experience with financial aid and comes from a wealthy family does not mean that she automatically does not care about the issues facing lower- and middle-class families in affording college education. However, her response to Senator Bernie Sanders’ questioning during her Senate hearing did not provide much hope.

Sanders asked DeVos whether she’d be willing to work on tuition-free college education, a central component of Sanders’ own presidential campaign. She responded, “I think that’s a really interesting idea, and it’s really great to consider and think about, but we also need to consider the fact that there’s nothing in life that’s truly free. Somebody’s going to pay for it.”

DeVos not only has no personal experience with college financial aid, but she also has no relevant experience in managing programs similar to the Pell Grant and federal student loans. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s questioning of DeVos made this abundantly clear — DeVos admitted that she had no experience managing a bank or similar program to the massive amount of funding for higher education handled by the Department of Education.

Warren stressed the importance of DeVos fully understanding financial aid, stating, “The Secretary of Education is essentially responsible for managing a $1 trillion student loan bank and distributing $30 billion in Pell Grants to students each year. The financial futures of an entire generation of young people depend on your department getting that right.”

With a secretary of education who does not seem to recognize the challenge of paying for college and has zero experience managing funding for higher education, the onus may be on institutions themselves to increase their support for low- and middle-income students.

Almost a quarter of USC’s undergraduates are Pell Grant eligible, demonstrating that USC has an inherently vested interest in who becomes the Secretary of Education, and what they do about the Pell Grant program. The Pell Grant has faced decreasing funding in the past, leading some of USC’s top administrators to visit Washington, D.C. to discuss this issue.

After receiving an ethics review, DeVos’ Senate vote was rescheduled for Jan. 31. If she is confirmed, USC will need to continue with its current student advocacy efforts at the federal level, while also furthering its commitments internally to student aid.

This means listening and responding to student concerns, fighting for federal aid and reevaluating current aid programs to ensure more people have the opportunity to go to college. Ultimately, USC must ensure distribution of funding to the students who need it most, and especially those who would be impacted by a decrease in Pell Grant funding. These actions would help guarantee that none of USC’s current or future students will need to worry about Betsy DeVos as secretary of education impacting their education.