July 9, 2024

House Republicans Press Biden Administration To Stop Helping Broke, Ripped-Off Students

House Republicans Press Biden Administration To Stop Helping Broke, Ripped-Off Students

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are once again pressuring the Biden Department of Education to overlook abuses by predatory colleges, and to stop granting debt relief to former students — veterans, single parents, and others — who have been victimized by these schools.

The House Appropriations committee is set on Wednesday morning to mark up a funding bill for multiple federal agencies, including the Department of Education. The bill, if passed, would prohibit the education department from enforcing a range of regulations aimed at protecting students from predatory college abuses.

These regulations include: the gainful employment rule, which cuts off federal aid to for-profit and career college programs that consistently leave students financially worse off than when they started; the borrower defense rule, which provides deceived students with a path to loan cancellation; and regulations implementing the revised federal “90-10 rule” in order to deter schools from over-aggressively targeting military veterans and service members for recruitment.

All those regulations are grounded in bipartisan laws previously passed by Congress, and all have been virulently opposed by the for-profit college industry, which sees them as threats to their bottom line. The House Republican bill also seeks to block efforts by the Biden administration to cancel student loan debt for low-income students and others struggling to pay their bills — measures that could help get many families back on their feet and help advance our economy.

But as harmful as the provisions of  the House Republican bill are, the committee’s accompanying report on the bill includes a range of demands that could make things even worse, by further empowering predatory colleges to accelerate their most deceptive and abusive conduct — and leave harmed students without a remedy. (Eagle-eyed advocate Kyle Southern of pro-student The Institute for College Access and Success brought the committee report items to my attention.)

One of the steps taken by the Biden administration to protect students was the re-establishment of a strong enforcement office within the Department of Education’s Office of a Federal Student Aid.  Trump education secretary Betsy DeVos, who filled her senior staff ranks with former executives of for-profit colleges, gutted that enforcement office.  Under Biden, the Department has moved to address some of the worst for-profit college abuses, such as fraudulent testing at for-profit Florida Career College, campus safety violations at non-profit Liberty University, and deceptive recruiting at Grand Canyon University, a school that is now structured as a non-profit with a for-profit arm.

The enforcement unit’s findings in these investigations have been detailed and rigorous, and the abuses described are egregious.

But for the House Republicans, the Department of Education’s recent efforts to protect students against college abuses are somehow a political enterprise, aimed at treating for-profit colleges unfairly.  In the House Appropriations report, the Republican members express “growing concern about the escalating frequency of targeted enforcement actions against specific categories of postsecondary institutions.” They call for “Objective, unbiased oversight, devoid of ideology and conflicts of interest.”  They claim that the education department “has repeatedly conducted specific investigations into individual colleges and universities, certain types of institutions, and companies in the education sector, often based on unfounded claims, a de minimis basis for opening an investigation, or sheer political motives.” They charge, ultimately, that the FSA enforcement office “is targeting proprietary [for-profit] schools, rather than investigating all institutions of higher education.”

These dramatic claims by the House Republicans, offered without evidence, sound very much like the rhetoric of the for-profit college industry itself as it has sought to wish away decades of evidence of deceptive and abusive practices.

The Republican committee members demand in their report that the Department of Education provide a briefing on the enforcement unit’s work, “particularly its targeted, proactive investigations and the resources allocated for such activities, including across different sectors of higher education” and its “methods for prioritizing investigations.”

The House Republicans also want to know the number of staff working in the enforcement office, which is congressional committee-ese for threatening to cut off funding. They might be surprised to learn how small the FSA enforcement staff remains, given their remarkable series of accomplishments under Biden, education secretary Miguel Cardona, and FSA chief Rich Cordray.

The Appropriations committee report also criticizes the Biden administration for its efforts to provide strong debt relief for broke and abused students under the borrower defense law. The report “directs” the education department to forego loan discharges for groups of students, based on evidence that their schools engaged in deceptive practices, and to instead review every individual student’s claims for proof they were personally deceived.  That approach, pursued under DeVos, ground the review process to a halt and effectively denied most former students any debt relief at all. The committee demands a report from the education department within six months on its compliance with this heartless directive.

House Republican efforts to block accountability for predatory college abuses have long been led by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC). Foxx also has long been the top recipient of campaign donations from the for-profit college industry, pulling in hundreds of thousands in contributions over the years.

The chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees education spending is Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), who in the most recent cycle has received $10,000 in campaign cash from employees of Florida’s Full Sail University, one of the most expensive for-profit schools and a regular donor to politicians.