As the nation welcomes President Joe Biden to the White House, higher education institutions across the country are saying goodbye – and good riddance – to former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Biden’s pick for the post, Connecticut Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona, is widely expected to change the tone and direction of the Department of Education. As he enters his post, it is imperative that Cardona cast aside DeVos’ policies and directives for higher education and forge a better path forward.
DeVos’ departure marks the end of her unqualified reign of terror. Her tenure as chief education official was marked by the rollback of Obama-era policies, extreme animosity toward teachers across the country, unforgivable support of guns in school and many other harmful policies specifically pertaining to higher education, from Title IX regulations that could discourage survivors from stepping forward to the exclusion of DACA recipients from the COVID-19 relief bill. Her threats to cut funding to public schools that refused to reopen because of public health concerns amid a pandemic and advocacy for funding cuts to public education revealed her open disdain for public school systems nationwide.
Biden’s pick for secretary of education brings the experience needed for the position. Cardona is a former public school teacher, principal and administrator, giving him vital classroom experience and a valuable perspective for policymaking. As a former teacher and member of a teacher’s union, Cardona will be far more understanding of the struggles of teachers nationwide and far more accommodating of their demands, especially during a time when many put their life on the line to teach students in classrooms. And if he upholds Biden’s presidential platform, Cardona will introduce student loan reform among other policies that may benefit college graduates.
Despite Cardona’s stellar qualifications, it is important to note that there are potential issues with his background. While he brings experience with public education that was sorely lacking from the previous administration, Cardona has no experience in higher education administration. Biden’s pick for deputy secretary of education, Cindy Marten, also hails from a K-12 education background. These picks could indicate that the ED will primarily focus on K-12 policy and punt higher education to the White House, but this development isn’t unwelcome. The president and first lady Jill Biden, a community college educator, have already proposed higher education policies to benefit the nation, like free community college tuition, and likely will continue to do so.
However responsibilities are divided between the secretary of education and the White House, there are several DeVos-era policies that Cardona should reverse starting on day one and even more for which he should advocate and introduce. DeVos repealed previous policies and guidelines regarding LGBTQ protections, which should be reinstituted and provide the LGBTQ community the protections they deserve. The previous administration disregarded the virus and actively threatened public school funding if they did not reopen their campuses. Cardona also needs to work with Biden’s new COVID-19 task force to create public health guidelines when it comes to public schools and reopening plans. In violation of the spirit of the law, DeVos funneled funding to private and religiously affiliated schools – Cardona should ensure a more equitable split. While DeVos’ Title IX rules are hard to reverse, Cardona should make it clear to universities that they will not face trouble for enforcing Obama-era Title IX policies instead.
Both Biden and Cardona have indicated that they support free community college for certain income brackets, but the Biden administration’s higher education policies should exceed just this target. Cardona needs to be a champion for measures that would rein in the increasing costs of higher education, expand debt repayment opportunities and provide more assistance to students burdened with student debt.
The new Biden administration needs to step up for higher education. Cardona’s appointment is the first step to repairing the Trump administration’s harmful education policies, but the new administration has room to improve.
The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Hannah Thacker and contributing opinions editor Andrew Sugrue, based on discussions with managing director Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, managing editor Parth Kotak, sports editor Emily Maise, culture editor Anna Boone and design editor Olivia Columbus.
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