3 takeaways for colleges from DeVos' contentious confirmation hearing

Nominee supports alternative pathways for advanced education

At last night's confirmation hearing, colleges learned a little more about how Betsy DeVos might approach higher education as Education Secretary. But not much. 

We've rounded up the top three takeaways for higher education leaders from the event.

1: The most vicious battle started before DeVos ever spoke.

Democrats and Republicans brawled over the procedure for the hearing. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) imposed a five-minute limit on questions for each senator, citing precedents. But Democrats frequently complained that they needed more time with DeVos and cited other precedents. A preview of the four years to come?

2: She called for more choice in higher education.

DeVos is a well-known supporter of school choice at the K-12 level, and seems to be bringing that philosophy to higher education as well.

At the hearing, she expressed concerns over "escalating tuition," though she overestimated that it had risen nearly 1,000% in the last few years. The figure is actually 124%, as Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) noted in a challenge to DeVos' grasp of the policy details related to student debt.

DeVos suggested the solution to student debt is more "pathways," such as career education and skilled trades. She did not commit to continuing to enforce the Obama administration's "gainful employment rule," but did say she would review its effectiveness.

"For too long a college degree has been pushed as the only avenue for a better life. The old and expensive brick-mortar-and-ivy model is not the only one that will lead to a prosperous future," DeVos said. 

Read more: What the Trump administration will mean for community colleges

3: We didn't learn much more about her higher ed policies.

Many commentators pointed out that DeVos avoided specific answers. Instead, she frequently said that she looks forward to working with lawmakers on cooperative solutions.

For example, on Title IX enforcement, DeVos said there are "a lot of conflicting ideas" and it would be "premature" to say whether she plans to uphold the Obama administration's 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter.

Alexander promised to hold off on DeVos' confirmation vote until the ethics committee finishes its  review of her financial ties and potential conflicts of interest (Zernike/Alcindor, New York Times, 1/17; Kreighbaum, Inside Higher Ed, 1/18; Kelderman, Chronicle of Higher Education, 1/18; Brown et al., Washington Post, 1/17).

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