SCIMECA: Resignation Of Biden Official Who Bungled FAFSA Overhaul Offers Opportunity To Fix Higher Ed Policy

Gerard Scimeca Contributor
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Students, parents, and taxpayers received some rare good news late last month from the Department of Education: Richard Cordray, a longtime ideologue with the Biden and Obama administrations, is leaving his post at the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA).

Cordray’s three-year tenure at helm of FSA was marked by incompetence, vengefulness, and inconsistency, making his resignation long overdue. His bungled rollout of the department’s revamped Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) — a slow motion trainwreck that has left millions of high school seniors uncertain about their futures — has leaders from across the political spectrum demanding answers. As of this writing, they still don’t have any.

The inability of the FSA Office to correct their error not only creates more headaches for parents, but will ultimately translate to fewer kids attending college. The Biden-made FAFSA disaster disproportionately harms black students, 90 percent of whom receive federal financial aid.

Cordray’s FAFSA snafu is much more than the usual ho-hum, “good enough for government work” mistake Americans have come to expect from Washington. It is a nightmare scenario, the likes of which hasn’t happened since the Obama administration’s botched introduction of the Obamacare website. Just ask students and parents, especially lower-income and minority families — the very groups this administration professes to champion — whose post-secondary education plans remain in limbo. Or colleges and universities, which the department has begged, pleaded, and cajoled to push back their commitment deadlines again and again.

When it was authorized by Congress in 2020, the FAFSA overhaul was intended to make student aid more accessible. Cordray and the Biden Department of Education managed to do the opposite. Student aid applications are down nearly 30 percent, and lower still among low-income students.

One might expect that, presented with reality, the Department of Education would at long last face the music and offer a mea culpa. Instead, Cordray and his agency doubled down. “Over my tenure, we … made it easier for people to apply for and manage student aid,” he boasted in a statement. For the high school seniors unsure of how or if they will be able to finance their college aspirations next fall, that must feel like salt in the wound.

The Department of Education also circled its wagons. Secretary Miguel Cardona lauded Cordray for “fixing the broken student loan system” (read: advancing the administration’s goal of mass student loan cancellation). Glaringly absent was any mention of the unresolved FAFSA problems or any accountability to students, teachers, or taxpayers.

Ironically, Cordray’s exit offers a telling glimpse into the Biden Department of Education. So obsessed is this cadre of bureaucrats with achieving the administration’s ideological goals, including student debt cancellation (even after it was rebuffed by the U.S. Supreme Court), that they have turned a blind eye to the real issues facing students and their families.

The Biden administration, it seems, is living in an ivory tower, more committed to its political objectives than to student interests. The Department of Education’s dogmatic crusade against non-traditional higher education — career colleges, faith-affiliated schools, and online programs — has limited educational choice and pressured students into a failing post-secondary model that even the Harvard Business Review says “simply no longer works.” That’s why CASE launched CardonaBias.com to draw attention to fact that the secretary has a political bone to pick with career colleges.

What’s more, the department’s assault has bolstered the administration’s mission to unilaterally cancel student debt. The “sue-and-settle” strategy implemented by Cordray and his colleagues has poisoned the well of public opinion against career colleges, even as these schools have proven better aligned with many students’ needs.

The result is a vicious cycle. The department entangles these schools in protracted investigations and litigation, intended to discredit their good names rather than protect student interests. They level costly penalties against them and then play the hero by canceling the debt of students supposedly defrauded by these schools once they go under or their name is sufficiently slandered.

The costs of the administration’s strategy ultimately fall on taxpayers and honest students working to pay back their loans. But to hear Cordray tell it, he’s done the Lord’s work holding these nefarious religious and vocational schools “accountable for defrauding students.” Never mind that, for the first time ever, most Americans believe that traditional four-year colleges, the darlings of the administration, are not worth the cost.

Cordray’s exit is overdue, but we should all be concerned that the next head of the FSA could be even more political. This reality should compel Congress to scrutinize President Biden’s next pick to head the FSA and erect guardrails to curb the administration’s campaign against non-traditional higher ed. Either way, Cordray left a giant mess that needs to be cleaned up, fast.

Gerard Scimeca is an attorney and serves as chairman and co-founder of CASE, Consumer Action for a Strong Economy, a free-market consumer advocacy organization. He recently released a report entitled Carbona Bias.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.