President Biden’s nominee, Dr. Miguel Cardona, is officially set to replace Betsy DeVos as the next U.S. Secretary of Education.
After being confirmed by the Senate with a 64-33 vote on March 1, 2020, he’ll now take charge of the Department of Education during a time when school reopenings and student loan relief are at the center of many debates.
Here’s what we know about Dr. Cardona thus far and how his potential policies could impact you.
Who is Dr. Miguel Cardona?
Dr. Cardona is the new Secretary of Education for the federal government. Prior to his confirmation, he served as Connecticut’s commissioner of education.
He has a broad background in K-12 schools, beginning his career as an elementary school teacher. Dr. Cardona then progressed into other roles within public schools, including serving as the youngest principal in Connecticut and later as an administrator.
Other notable facts about Dr. Cardona include:
- He was a first-generation college student.
- Spanish is his first language.
- He holds five degrees or certificates from Connecticut universities, including his bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate and superintendent certificate.
- He was Connecticut’s first Latino education commissioner.
Dr. Cardona doesn’t have experience in Washington D.C., but he received praise from both sides of the political aisle during his Senate confirmation hearing.
In short, it appears he’ll rely on his first-hand experience (and the input of many stakeholders) to champion students, families and educators.
Dr. Miguel Cardona’s Senate confirmation hearing
Much like during former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ confirmation hearing, senators asked very few questions related to higher education. The primary focus was on safely reopening schools and colleges across the country.
Discussions included the need for resources to combat learning loss and to address the trauma experienced throughout this pandemic. They also involved questions surrounding vulnerable populations of students (e.g. students with disabilities and LGBTQ students).
These are all pressing issues, but we didn’t hear too much about his position or plans surrounding higher education beyond his intent to improve access to opportunities for all.
Senator Burr briefly mentioned the federal student loan freeze and his preference to avoid current loan cancellation proposals. Instead, he pushed for legislation that “dramatically simplifies student loan repayment options” and caps payments at 10% of discretionary income with loan forgiveness after 20 years.
Senator Warren tackled the student debt discussion head-on, despite having remote connection issues. She brought up concerns related to student loan borrowers who didn’t graduate and the impact of student debt on Black and Latino borrowers. She also stated she believes the Secretary of Education has the power to provide loan cancellation.
Although these topics were quickly touched upon, no direct questions related to student loan cancellation or repayment were asked of Dr. Cardona.
But he did have a chance to emphasize his support for strengthening community colleges and career and technical education pathways.
Watch Dr. Cardona’s Senate confirmation hearing for yourself. Skip forward to the 15:30 minute mark.
Why this matters to you
Between his background in K-12 education and the pandemic’s impact on schools across the country, there’s great emphasis on moving forward with safely reopening schools and keeping them open.
If you have school-aged children, these discussions related to immediate reopening solutions and long-term resources should be of particular interest.
However, when it comes to higher education policies, we don’t expect him to make dramatic changes. But we do expect him to align with many of the higher education policies being discussed by the Biden administration.
Dr. Cardona hasn’t detailed specific higher education plans for his new role as he’s been moving through the process of being confirmed. But based on discussions and his background, we might see higher education policy changes that are focused on:
- Providing targeted relief efforts for those who need it the most. This might include resources to help re-engage college students who have suffered academically and financially during the pandemic. It might also include changes to income-driven repayment (IDR) plans to make student loan payments more affordable.
- Supporting some level of student loan cancellation. Dr. Cardona said he supports President Biden’s plan to back Congressional action to cancel $10,000 of federal student loans per borrower.
- Creating more pathways to college and technical careers, which might include more affordable community colleges. Dr. Cardona has called community colleges “the nation’s best-kept secret” and said that he supports President Biden’s push for no-cost community colleges.
- Making changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. Dr. Cardona has signaled his support of President Biden’s higher education plans, which will likely include plans to fix many of the PSLF program’s key problems.
It’s also likely that he’ll outsource the management of the student loan system and follow through with transitioning to the new loan servicers.
While we wait for more information, one thing is clear: many student debt advocates feel hopeful about Dr. Cardona’s confirmation and what it can mean for student loan borrowers.
For example, Student Debt Crisis, a nonprofit dedicated to reforming student debt and higher education loan policies, released a statement of support for Dr. Cardona. Executive Director Natalia Abrams said:
“The nomination of Miguel Cardona for Education Secretary brings the prospect of hope that existing student debt relief programs will be implemented as the law intended, and hope that comprehensive student debt cancellation is within reach.”
We’ll continue to update you as we learn more about Dr. Cardona’s prospective higher education policies.