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Betsy DeVos courts controversy with appointment of Georgian to key role

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has undone many of policies and postures of the Obama White House. Her more congenial attitude toward for-profit colleges that overcharge and underserve students has prompted much criticism. This week's news about a Georgia appointee to a key role in the Trump Administration is likely to dismay critics even more.

To lead the office within the U.S. Department of Education that oversees fraud, DeVos chose Georgian Julian Schmoke, who spent a chunk of his career with DeVry University, a for-profit college that eight months ago settled a $100 million lawsuit with the federal government for misleading students. Schmoke will lead the enforcement unit, which is empowered to combat fraudulent practices in higher education.

For the last five years, Schmoke has been executive director for campus operations at West Georgia Technical College, a two-year public institution. Prior to that, he was with DeVry in several roles, including   associate program dean for the chain's college of engineering and information sciences. Schmoke holds degrees from Dartmouth, Georgia Tech and Mercer.

Spending some time today reading about him, Schmoke brings a lot of skills to the mix, but has one major deficit; he spent years working for an institution that is the poster child for the very practices his new agency was created to weed out and punish.

In December, the Federal Trade Commission announced a $100 million settlement with DeVry Education Group, parent of DeVry University. Under the settlement, DeVry will pay $49.4 million in cash to be distributed to qualifying students who were harmed by the deceptive ads, as well as $50.6 million in debt relief. The debt being forgiven includes the full balance owed —$30.35 million— on all private unpaid student loans that DeVry issued to undergraduates between September 2008 and September 2015, and $20.25 million in student debts for items such as tuition, books and lab fees, according to the FTC.

According to a U.S. ED release today:

Dr. Julian Schmoke, Jr. is joining FSA to lead enforcement activities. In addition to a track record of successfully advocating for students for more than 20 years, he brings experience in higher education leadership, instruction and accreditation, including serving in an academic capacity at DeVry University, where he ensured the delivery of a quality education to students. Dr. Schmoke will lead a team focused on identifying, investigating and adjudicating statutory and regulatory violations of the federal student aid programs and on resolving borrower defense claims. Additionally, the team led by Dr. Schmoke will play a central role in coordinating efforts to prevent third-party companies associated with student aid programs from harming students, parents and borrowers.

Here is Schmoke’s bio from a mentoring site where he is on the board. An interesting point, while Schmoke’s LinkedIn profile – at least earlier today  -- cites his tenure with DeVry, including as a visiting professor, this bio does not mention it at all: (Side note: His LinkedIn profile seems to have gone offline for a bit today.)

Dr. Schmoke has spent 18 years in industry and 19 years in education where he has worked as a coach, electronics engineer, business owner, college professor, Program Dean, Associate Provost, and currently as the Executive Director of the Carroll Campus at West Georgia Technical College.  His heart and passion to serve others can be seen from his volunteer work in his church as a Christian Education leader and a Trustee, the Heard County Chamber Board of Directors, various committees he serves on for the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, and as IT director and Advisory Board member of Every Woman Works, Inc., a non-profit that helps train and place women in jobs that are transitioning from prison, welfare, or drug dependency.  His behind the scenes work advising mentoring, and providing advocacy for student athletes at West Georgia Technical college has helped a number of young men and women move on to successful athletic and academic careers at four-year colleges.  He serves the college as co-director of ACE, an academic advising, counseling, mentoring, and social support program for students attending West Georgia Technical College.  He also serves the college as a Title IX civil rights investigator.

Dr. Schmoke’s research on the challenges that students from low socioeconomic backgrounds have completing college helps provide the fuel that drives his community service efforts.  His desire to fix anything (equipment, processes, or people) that is broken and “get it done” attitude and work ethic makes him a willing resource for the organizations he serves.




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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.