Senate Democrats Push for Details on Higher Ed Task Force

A group of Senate Democrats sent a letter on Thursday to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos requesting information about a new task force on higher education regulations, according to The Washington Post.

President Trump reportedly tapped Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. to lead a panel evaluating "overreaching regulation" by the federal government in areas such as accreditation, student recruitment, and loan discharge for defrauded students. The administration has yet to make any official announcement, though. A White House spokesperson said he could neither confirm or deny the creation of the task force, the Post reported.

In the letter, the Democrats stated that they are "extremely concerned" to learn through media outlets that Falwell will head the initiative. The lawmakers, led by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee ranking member Patty Murray (D-WA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), demanded details regarding the scope, membership, and responsibilities of the commission.

The senators argued that many of the current laws and regulations in the areas under consideration provide important protections for students. They also took issue with the idea that university leaders whose schools receive federal student aid funding may have a chance to recommend policy changes to their own benefit.

"Unless the task force is comprised of members from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, including students and consumer advocates, we are concerned about conflicts of interests that may be created by taxpayer-subsidized entities writing the rules for their own access to federal dollars," the lawmakers wrote.

The lawmakers also cited concern about Falwell's own financial interest in regulation of higher education. Last year, Liberty University received $766 million in revenue from Title IV aid and was the third-largest recipient of federal student loans in the country. The institution also boasts the largest enrollment of any nonprofit institution, with more than 80,000 students, mostly enrolled in online courses.

"Mr. Falwell's personal and financial interests on issues affecting student loan debt, recruitment and distance education are extensive, and his perspectives must be viewed appropriately in this context," the senators wrote. "Similarly, the record of other members who are appointed to the task force should be closely examined for potential conflicts of interest."

The senators asked DeVos to provide answers to 17 requests and questions laid out in the letter no later than March 9.

 

Related Links

Letter to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

http://www.help.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Falwell%20Task%20Force%20Letter%202-23-17.pdf

The Washington Post

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2017/02/23/senate-democrats-seek-answers-about-a-trump-higher-ed-task-force/