Department of Education Policies… Is there a bias towards underrepresented students?

Whether it be federal financial aid applications and tools, student loan reform and repayment, school choice, public higher education funding, federal TRIO programs, or Title IX, all eyes are on the Department of Education. While I cannot cover all of these topics in one short blog post, I will shed light on a few that hit close to home.

Financial Aid

When it comes to federal financial aid there have been many discussions. First a very abrupt suspension of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool which allows students to import family income data already filed with the government when completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. To this point some may argue that this has adversely affected low-income families’ ability to successfully apply for federal financial aid. According to NASFAA (National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators) the suspending of the DRT has been proven to have an adversarial effect on low-income students.

Update: The IRS Data Retrieval Tool has been made available for loan repayment purposes but not students, parents, or borrowers.

College Access Government Funded Programs

The Federal TRIO Programs (TRIO) are Federal outreach and student services programs designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. TRIO includes eight programs targeted to serve and assist low-income individuals, first-generation college students, and individuals with disabilities to progress through the academic pipeline from middle school to post- baccalaureate programs.

The importance of supporting programs like TRIO are crucial to the access and success piece within higher education.  Programs like Upward Bound which has been around since 1964, and under the new Department of Education leadership may now be subject to funding cuts. There is a rising number of cuts to public education for at risk districts which are already feeling the stress of being understaffed, any further cuts to college access program can spell disaster for underrepresented student populations.

Update: Previously, under the direction of Secretary Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Department of Education denied funding to programs on 44 campuses due to double-space or font mishaps (listed on the application). In light of recent circumstances, however, the currently imperiled Upward Bound programs across the country may be safe, at least for now. Last week, during her testimony in front of the House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, Secretary DeVos committed to reconsider the ineligible applications using funds and direction provided by Congress in the 2017 omnibus spending bill. – Inside Higher Ed

Protections for LGBT Students under Federal Law

Just to recap a few key points on Title IX:

Title IX

When looking at the infographic take note that the new parameters regarding gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation are included in the updated Title IX Resource Guide published by Office for Civil Rights, thus requiring colleges to provide equal access to LGBT students. So when leadership within the Department of Education makes comments that are detrimental the protections that should be in place according to federal law when an institution is receiving federal funds. According to an article authored by Andrew Kreighbaum it was stated that:

“Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, in front of a Senate subcommittee last week, had noticeably changed her tune, telling senators repeatedly that any school receiving federal funding is required to follow federal law. That assurance came with a pretty big caveat, however. Pressed by Democrats on how she would protect the rights of LGBT students, DeVos said in areas where the law is “unsettled,” which she said included issues of bias against gay people, her department would not be “issuing decrees.”

Taking oral statements and written law into consideration makes for a contradictory view on this matter by the Department of Education.

When looking at the full scope of policy implications, we need to ask ourselves are these policies beneficial to students? Additionally are we moving towards more or less accessibility when it comes to higher education opportunities? Education professionals need to be well versed on how federal and state policies can affect the success and persistence of students K through 12 and beyond. It is our charge as professionals to remove roadblocks for students pursuing higher education.

 

By: Courtney Johnson-Benson, M.A.Ed.

Senior Assistant Director of Admissions

The University of Akron

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