July 15, 2020

22 States Sue DeVos to Overturn Anti-Student Rule

22 States Sue DeVos to Overturn Anti-Student Rule

The attorneys general of 22 states and the District of Columbia today sued Betsy DeVos over the Trump administration’s new borrower defense rule, a regulation that would make it virtually impossible for defrauded students to get their federal loan obligations cancelled, even though a federal statute provides that right. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco, asks a judge to strike down the DeVos rule, and restore a 2016 Obama-era rule, which did provide fair protections for students scammed by their colleges. 

California attorney general Xavier Becerra and Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey announced the new lawsuit on a press call, alongside Seth Frotman, director of the non-profit Student Borrower Protection Center, and Eileen Connor, Legal Director at the Harvard Project on Predatory Student Lending.

“We are standing up for these student borrowers,” said Becerra, who noted, accurately, that “almost every time we sue Secretary DeVos, we all win.” 

The new lawsuit claims that DeVos’s rule is unlawfully “arbitrary and capricious,” in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. As Becerra explained it, DeVos “rigged the system against students.” 

Healey said the states were suing DeVos because her new rule “is nothing more than a free pass for schools to keep abusing students.”

Connor’s group and the organization Public Citizen (on whose board I serve) already have sued DeVos, on behalf of the New York Legal Assistance Group, in federal court in Manhattan to strike down the same rule.

The DeVos rule took effect July 1. The day after that, President Trump vetoed a resolution, passed with bipartisan support, to cancel the DeVos rule and, in effect, restore the Obama version.

The Obama-era rule would provide desperately-needed financial relief and a measure of justice to former students who were deceived and abused by predatory colleges. It also could save taxpayers billions in the long term, as it pushed the Department of Education to throw repeat offending schools out of the federal aid program.

But DeVos and her top higher education aide, Diane Auer Jones, have skewed all their decisions to favor predatory for-profit colleges, such as the ones for whom Jones worked before joining the Trump administration. 

DeVos premised her borrower defense rule on her unsubstantiated suggestion that students are con artists, ready to go after innocent colleges for “free money.”

“Secretary Devos has a vendetta against students and her borrower defense rule shows how far she will go to deny defrauded students their rights under the law,” Connor said in a statement.

The for-profit college industry, which always seems focused on protecting its worst-offending schools, lobbied hard to stop the Obama-era rule, and, when Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos came to power, the industry made trashing the borrower defense rule a top priority.

The new DeVos rule applies to borrower claims going forward. DeVos’s Department also has sought to thwart borrower claims under existing law, and to unlawfully collect student loan payments from borrowers students who have filed challenges, resulting in repeated defeats for her Department in court.