January 19, 2021

Goodbye Diane Jones, The Worst Trump Official You Probably Never Heard Of

Goodbye Diane Jones, The Worst Trump Official You Probably Never Heard Of

Apparently, someone at the U.S. Department of Education, with access to sensitive information, is pleased to see Diane Auer Jones, the top higher education official at the department, leave as the Trump administration ends. Politico‘s Michael Stratford reports today on a preliminary finding of the department’s inspector general office that Jones exceeded her authority in her botched handling of the well-publicized debacle over the Dream Center chain of career colleges.

Stratford further reports that on a “heated call” in December, Jones attacked the IG’s conclusions as “outrageous.”

Leaking a preliminary investigative report and its fallout may not seem too nice. But Jones, a former executive at one of the worst for-profit college operations, and the prime mover behind the enormous corruption in favor of predatory for-profit colleges that occurred under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, more than deserves public condemnation.

Jones carried at one point the endless title “Principal Deputy Under Secretary, Delegated the Duties of the Under Secretary and Assistant Secretary for Post-Secondary Education,” which translated into: she controls and dominates higher education policy in the Trump administration, but she will never be nominated to a Senate-confirmed position because her hearing would further expose the deep abuses in the DeVos Department and she won’t be confirmed anyway.

The draft inspector general report obtained by Politico reportedly found that Jones took actions “outside the authority” her job permitted in dealing with Dream Center Education Holdings, a new nonprofit that acquired the Art Institutes, Argosy, and South University chains from failing for-profit giant Education Management Corporation, which had repeatedly faced law enforcement actions for predatory abuses. 

Republic Report was the first to expose, in May 2018, that top officials of the new non-profit Dream Center appeared to be improperly mingling operations of the newly non-profit schools with their own for-profit companies — and that the schools were falsely claiming that some campuses remained accredited, when in fact the accreditor, Higher Learning Commission, had suspended approval. 

According to Politico, the preliminary IG findings criticize the DeVos Department: over its initial approval of the sale to Dream Center; over steps it took to allow taxpayer millions to continue flowing to the schools despite legal compliance, accreditor, and financial problems; and over the subsequent sale of some of the schools to another questionable non-profit operation unmasked by Republic Report, the Education Principle Foundation. 

Last summer, the House Education and Labor Committee documented multiple false statements and deceptions by Jones and the Department in connection with its handling of the Dream Center debacle.

Jones’s troubling role on Dream Center, where she tried and failed to be a master deal maker — consequences for students, and compliance with the law, be damned — was just one piece of her audacious record of favoring horrible for-profit colleges over students and taxpayers.

Jones oversaw the DeVos Department’s dismantling of the rules issued in the Obama administration to provide some oversight and accountability, to help separate good, quality, ethical schools from predatory scam operations. Under Jones and DeVos, the Department also gutted the investigative unit created under Obama to crack down on abuses.

The Trump-DeVos-Jones education department also weakened protections for students by reversing an Obama-era decision to drop as a Department-approved accreditor — a gatekeeper for federal students grants and loans — the asleep-at-the-switch overseer of many worst-of-the-worst for-profit colleges, ACICS. And it reversed an Obama action refusing to recognize as a non-profit the CEHE chain of schools previously run as a for-profit, giving preferential status to a wretched predatory college operation which in 2017 had hired the same Diane Auer Jones as a $50,000 consultant expert witness. (The Department of Education claims Jones recused herself from that decision.)

Perhaps drunk on her unrestrained power, Jones went as far as to allow DeVos to appoint — as the sole independent student member of NACIQI, the Department’s critical advisory committee on educational quality — a law student who was previously Jones’s personal assistant at the Department. Jones also mounted an outrageous effort to blame and punish accreditor Higher Learning Commission for the Dream Center catastrophe — a gambit that was overwhelmingly rejected by the Republican-dominated NACIQI panel.

Jones’s financial ties to the for-profit college industry went far deeper than her paid witness gig for the CEHE schools. Prior to Trump’s election, Jones was a senior executive at Career Education Corp., (now called Perdoceo), one of the worst predatory chains in the industry. Jones claimed to the New York Times in 2019 that “[s]he was the one who reported the improprieties found at its schools to the schools’ accreditor and the Education Department,” but no details of that assertion ever emerged, and it was already abundantly clear by the time she joined CEC in 2010, and while she worked there through 2015, that the company was a scam operation that deceived, abused, and under-educated students, leaving many of them deep in debt and without the careers they sought. Worse, employees at the company’s schools continue to tell me in detail about predatory practices at the chain’s surviving schools, online American Intercontinental University and Colorado Technical University. Yet supposed whistleblower Jones has, as a Department official, continued to allow billions in federal aid to go to her former company. 

Jones also previously worked as a consultant for the for-profit college trade association CECU/APSCU, which has harbored some of the industry’s worst predators while working to undermine even minimal protections for students.

Jones represents — she is — the worst of revolving door Washington, moving back and forth between taxpayer-funded jobs at federal agencies and executive and lobbying roles at bad-behaving corporations regulated by those agencies. Like many other top officials in the extraordinarily corrupt Trump administration, Diane Auer Jones has seemed to tailor her government actions to fulfill the deepest wish fantasies of the industry where she previously worked, and perhaps will work again. There should be accountability for her mismanagement, misdeeds, corruption, and lies. But for right now, it’s just good that she’s gone.