February 21, 2019

DeVos Plan Would Aid Predatory Colleges & Hurt Taxpayers, Students, Higher Education

DeVos Plan Would Aid Predatory Colleges & Hurt Taxpayers, Students, Higher Education

The Trump-DeVos Department of Education is holding another round of meetings this week on a proposed set of regulations governing higher education. The proposals span a ridiculously wide range of issues, but the overriding theme is clear: Just about anyone or anything that wants to call itself a school, or a “provider” to a school, can run just about any kind of self-styled education program and get access to taxpayer-funded grants and loans with minimal oversight and accountability. The Department would have lower standards for accreditors, the outside non-profit groups that the Department uses as gatekeepers for access to federal dollars, and accreditors would have fewer oversight obligations with respect to schools. In addition, schools would be able to outsource their education programming to unaccredited, unmonitored outside contractors.

During the public comment period at the end of today’s session, I plan to offer the following remarks:

Thank you all for your service on this panel. It’s a big sacrifice of time. You bring to the table a great deal of expertise and wisdom. Thanks to the Department staff as well.

For myself, I’ve spent a lot of time investigating various for-profit schools and chains whose operators just don’t seem to care enough about students. They engage in deceptive and coercive recruiting, they charge too much, they spend their money on advertising and executive salaries, and spend very little on instruction. Far too many of their students end up with their futures destroyed, with insurmountable debt and no improvement in their careers. These are single parents, veterans, immigrants, first in their family to attend college. People who only wanted a chance.

Many of these schools have now collapsed, but many remain. Some have converted to non-profit, but have done so in sham arrangements that allow the school to evade the for-profit stigma and regulations, but permit for-profit investors to keep making big money, and maintain incentives for predatory practices. The current meltdown of the EDMC-Dream Center schools shows what happens when profits are put before integrity and quality. It shows the risks of outsourcing and the need for stronger oversight and openness by institutions, accreditors, and government.

Predatory schools have sullied the reputation of for-profit higher education, hurting the quality for-profit schools, too, and, to some degree, have damaged all of higher education.

In truth, many of the top officials hired by Secretary DeVos to work on higher education previously worked for just these kinds of schools, and everything the Department is doing seems aimed at protecting these kind of schools, predatory schools. Not protecting your institutions.

This Department is in the process of erasing the borrower defense and gainful employment rules aimed at protecting students and curbing predatory practices. This Department restored an accreditor, ACICS, that sat back and allowed abuses to go on. This Department blessed a wave of troubling conversions to non-profit status. This Department dismantled its enforcement unit. Now, in this process, the Department wants to reduce accountability even more.

This abandonment of responsible oversight is happening even as state attorneys general, state oversight agencies, legislatures, and accreditors are all moving in the direction of stronger accountability.

Good, honest institutions may be tempted into believing that fewer accountability measures are in their interest. But that would be short-sighted. Good schools should want rules that can separate good actors from bad actors. Without such measures, more and more federal aid will go to poor quality schools, more and more of higher education will be seen as a scam, taxpayers will rise up, federal financial aid will be imperiled.

As you do, I support greater innovation in higher education, freedom to experiment and do bold things. As I do, you and your institutions care deeply about students. Because you do care, you must recognize that innovation with taxpayer funds must come with real accountability. Don’t support efforts by this Administration to take that accountability away.