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Column: Protecting students from predatory for-profit colleges

  • New Hampshire Democratic Senate candidate, Gov. Maggie Hassan speaks to reporters, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, outside a polling place in Portsmouth, N.H. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  • Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is not putting the interests of students first when it comes to the predatory behavior of for-profit colleges. (Dreamstime/TNS)

To the Valley News
Published: 7/31/2019 10:10:22 PM
Modified: 7/31/2019 10:10:12 PM

Washington

Across America, predatory for-profit colleges are preying on the hopes and dreams of students seeking to further their education and build a better life for themselves and their families.

Institutions like Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech — which both collapsed and left students saddled with debt — are two of the worst examples, but they are hardly the only ones. Bad actors in the for-profit education industry use deceptive and manipulative marketing practices to target potential students — especially service members and veterans. These institutions make false promises and leave many students with enormous debt and no degree.

The U.S. Department of Education should be a bulwark against such outrageous practices. But unfortunately, like on so many other issues, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is not putting the interests of students first when it comes to the predatory behavior of for-profit colleges.

Last month, DeVos repealed the department’s gainful employment rule, which prevented for-profit colleges from enrolling students in low-quality programs that charge more than what a student can reasonably pay back after they graduate.

Unfortunately, this is not a surprise given that DeVos has stacked the department with former for-profit education executives. New records released by the Education Department even show that when signing off on previously approved debt-relief for 16,000 students defrauded by these institutions, DeVos explicitly wrote that she was doing so “with extreme displeasure.”

We cannot allow the Education Department to shirk its responsibility to hold predatory institutions accountable when they engage in unfair, deceptive, and other fraudulent practices. That is why I have joined with Sen. Dick Durbin, of Illinois, to introduce the Protect Students Act.

The problem with for-profit colleges is clear. These institutions enroll just 9% of all postsecondary students, but they account for 34% of all federal student loan defaults.

These schools market to individuals who are facing economic hardship, promising to give them a leg up, while providing misleading information about the true costs of a program. This leaves too many students buried in debt, with many students dropping out before finishing their degree. For those who do finish, they often find that their diploma isn’t worth much — leaving them unable to pay off their loans. Our bill would take concrete action to address these practices.

To start, the act would reverse DeVos’ elimination of the gainful employment rule and codify it to ensure that career education programs actually prepare students for good-paying jobs. When students invest their time and money with the promise that they will gain the skills that they need to compete in the job market, we must ensure that these programs are actually setting students up for success.

To do this, our bill gives schools whose students have too much debt compared with their earnings a window in which they can improve. If they fail to do so, the school will be prohibited from using federal financial aid — preventing taxpayer dollars from being wasted and incentivizing schools to serve the interests of their students.

Next, the act would better safeguard our veterans and service members from predatory practices.

For-profit colleges are required to get at least 10 percent of their money from non-federal dollars, but a loophole currently allows them to count G.I. benefits toward that 10 percent. Our bill would close that loophole, which has resulted in predatory for-profit schools deliberately and aggressively marketing to veterans and even providing false information about their programs, including the expected level of student debt and what kind of jobs would be available to students once they graduate.

By closing this loophole, we can eliminate the incentive for these schools to unfairly target veterans.

The act would also help student borrowers who have been cheated or defrauded by predatory institutions, including for-profit colleges, by improving the process for loan forgiveness when schools engage in fraud.

And our legislation would increase consumer protections by banning the practice of mandatory arbitration, which has limited students’ ability to seek legal action if they’ve been defrauded.

By passing the Protect Students Act, we can push back against DeVos’ harmful agenda and take a strong step forward to ensure that when students devote considerable time and money to furthering their education, they actually get what they paid for.

Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, represents New Hampshire in the U.S. Senate.




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