Seeing vulnerable young people cheated by shady for-profit schools year after year doesn’t seem to bother U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Since moving into the job in February, DeVos has been busy siding with the for-profit career college industry and against students. It would be one thing to tweak the rules to make them fairer to both schools and students. But DeVos appears intent on returning to the days when too many students got an unwelcome introductory course in Fraud 101.
On July 1, the so-called “borrower’s defense” rule was scheduled to go into effect. Among other provisions, it would have wiped away debt for students who were cheated by fraudulent colleges. The rule was finalized last fall after years of thorough discussion involving an array of interested parties. The public record included more than 10,000 comments. DeVos wants to throw all that out and start over, potentially leaving students vulnerable for years to come, and maybe forever.
Last week, attorneys general from Illinois, 17 other states and the District of Columbia sued DeVos and the Education Department to preserve the rule. The attorneys general argue DeVos is effectively rescinding the rule without new negotiated rule-making, which is illegal. We hope the courts settle this quickly, and on the side of the students.
Without the rule, students whose schools shut down, as has happened more than 50 times in Illinois, often remain on the hook for their student loans, even though they can’t complete their degree. If they are at their loan limit, they can’t borrow more to go to another school. They can’t discharge their loans through bankruptcy. That’s what happened after a regulatory crackdown led to Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute closing hundreds of campuses. The “borrower’s defense” rule would have let those students start afresh.
The for-profit sector has good schools that provide decent educations. But those schools have been overshadowed by operations that fool students into thinking they’ll get good jobs, persuade them to take out huge loans they can never repay and even trick them into signing away their right to sue once they learn they’ve been cheated. Taxpayers are cheated too, as they are forced to make up for defaulted loans.
DeVos should devise solutions to those problems before she begins tossing out rules designed to protect students and taxpayers.