January 7, 2021

Goodbye Betsy DeVos, Who Treated Struggling Students As Con Artists

Goodbye Betsy DeVos, Who Treated Struggling Students As Con Artists

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has resigned today in the wake of the MAGA terror attack on the Capitol, writing in a letter to President Trump, “There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me.”

I’m glad she broke with Trump on his vile behavior this week, but DeVos’s whole tenure was the inflection point for me. She leaves an awful legacy of destructive policies with respect to K-12 education, civil rights, and campus sexual assault. But this website has been especially troubled by DeVos’s ugly, corrupt policies with respect to the for-profit college industry.

DeVos — appointed secretary by the former head of fraudulent Trump University, rushed through a confirmation hearing by Senate Republicans, and confirmed via a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence when even two Republicans voted against her — blatantly abandoned federal protections for students and taxpayers in swiftly enacting the agenda of predatory for-profit schools. DeVos, herself an investor in for-profit education companies, turned policy over to Diane Auer Jones and other unconfirmable aides who had previously worked as senior executives for bad-behaving colleges.

In addition to trashing all the accountability rules and mechanisms created at the education department in the wake of a wave of scandals and investigations of the for-profit college industry, Betsy DeVos added insult to injury by snidely suggesting that it was the students, not the schools, who were the con artists. In September 2017, speaking at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference in Michigan, DeVos declared that under rules adopted by the Obama administration, “all one had to do was raise his or her hands to be entitled to so-called free money.”

DeVos was referencing the Obama Department of Education’s Borrower Defense Rule, which implemented a long-standing federal law giving defrauded students the right to have their federal loans cancelled.

DeVos had put that Obama rule on hold, along with other reforms implemented after revelations of shocking abuses by for-profit colleges — using deceptive and coercive recruiting tactics, overcharging, underspending on instruction, lying to government oversight agencies, and defrauding taxpayers of billions of dollars. Numerous for-profit colleges have faced federal and state law enforcement probes for fraud and other abuses.

Yet DeVos, pushed by paid for-profit college lobbyist and early Trump supporter Newt Gingrich, become the industry’s full-time advocate. DeVos’s Mackinac insult was false and utterly contemptuous of the hard working students — veterans, single moms, and others — who typically attend for-profit colleges. The borrower defense rule required much more than that a student raise a hand; the Department had to find that a college had engaged in serious misconduct before any student had loans forgiven. Students who attended honest, quality schools wouldn’t be eligible. In addition, no student would get actual money under the rule, just cancellation of debt incurred by predatory practices.

Finally, even such loan cancellation would not be “free”: The former student would not get their expensive private loans, which many for-profit students are forced to take out to pay the astronomical tuition, cancelled; in most cases they would not get renewed eligibility for grants or scholarships already used; and they already would have put in countless hours studying, commuting, and attending classes, often with no useful degree to show for all their precious time.

But perhaps none of that occurred to sheltered billionaire Betsy DeVos, speaking to wealthy Republicans at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in northern Michigan. These defrauded students have never been seeking free money, but a chance to start again with nothing after being ripped off by cruel scam artists.

Free money would, instead, be something like running a fraudulent college that gets millions, even billions, from taxpayers and students without providing a decent education. Or operating deceptive Trump University. Or being born the daughter of Edgar Prince, who became a billionaire industrialist.

But that speech was just one example of DeVos’s open disdain for broke, ripped off student borrowers. Later it was revealed that when DeVos was forced to sign off on thousands of students’ loan cancellation claims that were already approved by the Department under Obama, she went out of her way to note that she was signing “with extreme displeasure.”

In cancelling the Obama borrower defense rule and replacing it with a rule that made it almost impossible for most defrauded borrowers to get relief, DeVos’s Department again argued that it is the students, rather than the colleges, who are the shady operators, that students will take unfair advantage of a strong borrower defense rule to submit “[f]alse claims” based on “unsubstantiated allegations.”

The law requires that agency rules be backed up with evidence, not just accusations; in gutting the Obama borrower rule, DeVos presented exactly zero evidence of student fraud. Borrowers and state attorneys general are now asking federal courts to strike down DeVos’s evidence-free rule.

In late 2019, DeVos pursued her theme that student borrowers are scammers, writing, “We cannot tolerate fraud in higher education,” but adding, “nor can we tolerate furiously giving away taxpayer money to those who have submitted a false claim or aren’t eligible for relief.”

And throughout her tenure DeVos made every effort to block pleas filed by individual defrauded, broke students that the Department cancel their federal loans.

Ripped off for-profit college students, with debts in the tens of thousands, sometimes more than $100,000, felt they were close to getting relief, and a new future, at the end of the Obama administration. Betsy DeVos spent four years sneering at them, questioning their integrity, and, most importantly, improperly denying or sitting on their loan relief applications, keeping borrowers buried in unfair debt. Her departure, along with that of her corrupt henchwoman Diane Jones, and the arrival of the Biden administration, gives these men and women hope for something better.