November 13, 2017

DeVos Stands with Scoundrels, Not Students

DeVos Stands with Scoundrels, Not Students

The U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Betsy DeVos this week began the process of dismantling the rules issued under President Obama to constrain the predatory abuses of for-profit colleges. At the end of the troubling first day of what’s called negotiated rulemaking, members of the public were given an opportunity to speak. I was the only person to get up to speak. I said this: 

This proceeding is blocking a regulation that was carefully considered and carefully crafted to protect students and taxpayers from predatory college abuses. What the Department now is doing is a bad idea, and I have submitted public comments explaining why I believe that.

But that’s the Washington DC perspective on what’s going on here — injury to a rule. From the perspective of those hard working Americans who have been defrauded and abused by for-profit colleges — veterans, single mothers, immigrants, the forgotten Americans whom President Trump promised to fight for — this proceeding, and this Department’s failure to act on 99,000 pending applications for relief, is about something much more urgent.

Almost all the students seeking relief attended for-profit colleges. Many were left with useless credits and degrees from high-priced, low-quality programs. They were deceived into enrolling and left without the careers or salaries they were promised. Many nonetheless faithfully pay down their student loans every month, even if that leaves them with little money for rent, food, clothes for their children. This proceeding, and the delay in acting on claims, is causing immense hardship and heartbreak for those Americans.

My colleagues and I know these men and women. They’re good people. All they wanted was a chance to pursue their dreams and make better lives for their families. They’re not asking, as Secretary DeVos recently suggested, for “free money”; only to have some of their debts cancelled, so they have some chance for a future.

But instead of standing with them, Secretary DeVos and this Department are now standing with the people who have caused the harm, the people who have pocketed billions and required taxpayer bailout after taxpayer bailout.

There is no sound public policy rationale for delaying and rewriting the borrower defense rule. The rule would quickly start saving money for taxpayers, by pushing the Department to remove from federal aid those predatory schools that produce widespread loan defaults. But the issue papers prepared by the Department for this meeting reveal its determination to cancel legitimate protections for students and taxpayers.  

I know and respect some owners and executives of for-profit schools. Some really do want the best for their students. The industry has many good teachers. Some owners expressed legitimate concerns during past rule makings. But over eight years of the last administration, the Department took those concerns into consideration, and I believe we ended up with rules and policies that are more than fair to schools, rules that penalize bad actors while rewarding colleges that actually help students train for careers.

This process today is, instead, about the corruption of our system. It’s about the blatant desire of some for-profit colleges, which are associated with political appointees, donors, and friends of this administration, to go back to the recent bad old days, when they could act with impunity — deceiving and abusing students in order to maximize profits. Their misconduct, which has led to scores of federal and state law enforcement actions, and is still very much ongoing, has been a national scandal. And this proceeding extends and embodies that scandal.

State attorneys general — Republicans and Democrats — will continue to fight against for-profit college fraud. Responsible Members of Congress, media outlets, and advocates for students and veterans will continue to expose abuses, and more prospective students will get the truth about bad actors in this industry, even if your Department continues to weaken enforcement efforts, relax oversight of accreditors, approve sham conversions to non-profit status, and gut accountability rules. The Department will be on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of justice, and the wrong side of our people.

Keep the existing borrower rule. Help these students.

This article also appears on HuffPost.