Betsy DeVos and a bear cub look at student loan paperwork (illustrated)
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Betsy DeVos must be feeling a little relieved.

With ex-CFPB director Richard Cordray off her back on student loans, and Trump looking to shuffle his Cabinet elsewhere, her Education Department has a little year-end breathing room.

And it probably needs it, because there are more empty seats than ever. Pretty soon she might be the only one left in the place. That’s apparently by design, according to The Washington Post:

The department’s workforce has shrunk under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has said she wants to decrease the federal government’s role in education, including investigations and enforcement of civil rights in schools. In all, the department has shed about 350 workers since December — nearly 8 percent of its staff — including political appointees. With buyouts offered to 255 employees in recent days, DeVos hopes to show even more staff the door.

Meanwhile, fewer than half of the leadership roles have been filled, leaving more responsibility on DeVos’ shrugging shoulders. The department already has the smallest staff of the 15 Cabinet-level agencies, and DeVos has pushed to cut nearly one-sixth of her own budget. Those cuts would have serious ramifications for students of all grade levels, but particularly for college students and recent graduates.

Double the work, half the people

As just one example, DeVos’ budget proposal calls for cutting 46 people from the Office of Civil Rights, which deals with discrimination complaints. By the department’s own estimates, that would come close to doubling the caseload of each remaining investigator on an already overworked staff. (Complaints are at record levels, and staffing has never fully recovered from the recession and sequestration cuts.)

Meanwhile, DeVos has scaled back Obama-era regulations and guidance on dealing with those complaints, making the job that much murkier — and less helpful to students, who may suffer in their studies and take longer to graduate or not graduate at all. Then they’re left with student loan debt and no degree.

Real consequences for students and grads

Buyouts are also being offered to many in the student aid office — the one responsible for the FAFSA and the one that ultimately makes college an affordable possibility for most Americans.

Now is not the time for that, as we face student loan debt that outstrips any other kind except mortgages. And, as the Post notes, while the department has “a backlog of more than 87,000 applications for student debt relief that are being reviewed by just 14 staff members.” More than 10,000 of those are pending approval and have been for some time because there simply aren’t enough people to do the work.

The department can’t afford to shrink any further. Too many people rely on it, even after graduation. Unpaid student loan bills in many states can trigger suspension of professional and driver’s licenses — people need to be aware of their repayment options, and they need to be able to get answers from the people who are supposed to be the experts on how this all works.

And it’s not that she doesn’t grasp the situation. A year in, that’s no longer a valid excuse. DeVos’ philosophy has been pretty clearly and consistently stated: She wants to get out of the way of state education departments. But they’re not equipped or trained for the challenge, any more than she is.

She’s in over her head and shirking her responsibility, at the actual expense of many college students. She should step aside and let someone with real expertise take over — assuming she hasn’t fired them all already.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and/or policies of

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Article last modified on December 22, 2017. Published by, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: Why Is the Education Department Shrinking? - AMP.

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Article last modified on December 22, 2017. Published by, LLC .