Betsy DeVos, the current Secretary of Education, made headlines when first elected for being totally unfit and unqualified for the job. Since then, though, she has managed to neatly slip under the radar and avoid too much media attention. However, this past week with the shadow of President Trump’s decision to repeal DACA still looming, DeVos, along with Trump’s administration, was quietly making other changes that could greatly affect the higher-education system in the United States.
While no official statement or decision has been released yet, DeVos and Trump have tapped Julian Schmoke Jr. as the new director to head the Education Department’s Student Aid Enforcement Unit. This relatively new unit was established by former President Obama in 2016 in order to “protect students and taxpayers through investigating and responding to allegations of illegal activity throughout higher education institutions.” The department itself is made up of four divisions, the Investigations Group, Borrower Defense Group, Administrative Actions and Appeals Service Group, and the Clery Group, each tasked with their own job intended to make the entire unit run smoothly and productively.
As this unit is relatively new, the upcoming years are crucial to its development as a part of our government, and will create the beginnings of a legacy within the department. For this reason, it is imperative that the new director of the department be experienced and qualified in this field. Julian Schmoke Jr. is most definitely experienced in the fields of higher education and dealing with misconduct within universities. However, Schmoke’s experience unfortunately lies on the side that this unit is tasked to oppose.
Schmoke’s background in higher education stems mostly from his time as an associate dean at DeVry University. DeVry University is a for-profit college originally founded in 1931 in Illinois. Since then, DeVry has become a nationwide university with locations in various states around the country, and currently enrolls about 80,000 students both in online and in-person classes.
However, while this all sounds very impressive and promising, DeVry University has recently settled a 100 million dollar lawsuit with the Federal Trade Commission regarding claims that they “misled prospective students.” This lawsuit alleged that even up to nine years ago, DeVry University was advertising false employment statistics as an incentive to get prospective students to enroll in the university.
This type of deceit is exactly what the Student Aid Enforcement Unit is supposed to be protecting against. The job of the department, as the name suggests, is to assist students who have been subject to violations or illegal actions by a higher education institution. The idea that our leaders want to allow the director of this department, which is supposed to be committed to fairness and justice for students, to be a man associated with these fraudulent activities seems outrageously counter-intuitive.
While Schmoke is without a doubt associated with DeVry University and the allegations against it, he is not necessarily the one to blame for the fraud. Schmoke was an associate dean at the college from 2008 until 2012, which clearly falls within the time frame that the university was said to be advertising false information. However, he is not actually mentioned in any of the paperwork or lawsuits regarding the claims, and has not been directly linked to the settlement. This, of course, does not mean that the Department of Education’s statement claiming Schmoke to have a rich history in higher education and to have “ensured the delivery of a quality education to students [at DeVry University]” is totally accurate either. As an associate dean at DeVry, it is very hard to believe that Schmoke did not in some capacity know of the wrongdoings at the university.
Schmoke’s impending appointment as the director of the Student Aid Enforcement Unit comes with many open-ended questions for educators, politicians and students alike. While it is unclear how this decision will affect a department that has barely had time to grow to begin with, it is apparent that the selection has infuriated other leaders. Senator Richard Durbin, of Illinois, took to twitter to air his grievances about the decision, saying it was “like the fox guarding the hen house.”
While Schmoke may have more qualifications than others, he represents everything that the Student Aid Enforcement Unit is supposed to oppose. With Trump and his administration choosing new leaders every day, Julian Schmoke Jr. is just the most recent appointee that is wrong for the position they’ve been given.
Emma Hungaski is the associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.