Campus experts respond to possible federal higher education task force

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The Trump administration is allegedly assembling a federal higher education task force that UC Berkeley faculty members believe could impact the UC system.

Six Democratic senators sent a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday to express concerns about recent reports of the task force, which would allegedly make changes to federal higher education regulation in the United States.

In the letter, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, and Sen. Margaret Hassan, D-New Hampshire, laid out 17 requests for DeVos to respond to by March 9.

Henry Brady, dean of the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy, said in an email that the fundamental benefits of federal higher education regulations are ensuring high graduation rates, student success and low default rates with loans. Efforts to deregulate would counter the Obama administration’s efforts to monitor for-profit institutions failing to meet these standards, according to Brady.

“Personally, I think (the task force) will be a tragedy … for many students who will take on a great deal of debt and get very little in return in terms of job training or prospects,” Brady said in the email. “It is important to make sure that universities and colleges are required to deliver a good product.”

The senators expect the task force to work closely with the Department of Education, and they asked DeVos in their letter for transparency regarding the relationship and intentions of the two entities.

Zachary Bleemer, a research associate at the UC Berkeley Center for Studies in Higher Education, said in an email that he thinks the “availability and excellence” of UC Berkeley’s undergraduate education could be significantly impacted by changes in federal funding and policy. Bleemer added that he believed DeVos was inexperienced in dealing with higher education and that the task force could be “unusually powerful.”

Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University in Virginia and a supporter of Trump and deregulatory policies in higher education, alleged in January that he had been tapped to lead the task force. Liberty University received $766 million in federal aid last year, according to the senators’ letter to DeVos, and the senators said in the letter that they are concerned Falwell could have conflicting financial and personal interests.

John Ellwood, campus professor emeritus of public policy, said the efforts of the task force to deregulate funding and policy could hurt more than Berkeley’s student financial aid — it could affect students personally.

“Falwell leads you to believe (the task force) will be pro-private and pro-religious,” Ellwood said. “Major liberal universities (like Berkeley) have taken a stance to protect dreams (and) undocumented students.”

Contact Ani Vahradyan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anivahrad.