Protecting for-profit colleges, DeVos finds new ways to weaken safeguards

Image: File Photo: Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee confirmation hearing
File Photo: Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee confirmation hearing to be next Secretary of Education on Capitol...

When some major for-profit colleges collapsed a few years ago, the Obama administration concluded that their students were misled by unscrupulous educators, who peddled false claims and made misleading promises. As regular readers know, the Democratic administration put together several new safeguards.

The Trump administration is going out of its way to turn back the clock in ways that help for-profit colleges and hurt exploited students. The New York Times  reported over the weekend:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos formally moved Friday to scrap a regulation that would have forced for-profit colleges to prove that the students they enroll are able to attain decent-paying jobs, the most drastic in a series of policy shifts that will free the scandal-scarred, for-profit sector from safeguards put in effect during the Obama era.In a written announcement posted on its website, the Education Department laid out its plans to eliminate the so-called gainful employment rule, which sought to hold for-profit and career college programs accountable for graduating students with poor job prospects and overwhelming debt. The Obama-era rule would have revoked federal funding and access to financial aid for poor-performing schools.

It's surprisingly difficult to think of a defense for such a policy.

Some for-profit colleges -- recipients of federal subsidies -- ran into trouble for taking students' money and teaching them little in the way of marketable skills. Students would pay for degrees, only to discover that employers had no interest in their substandard education.

The Obama administration created a fairly obvious fix: the "gainful employment rule" would require for-profit colleges to demonstrate that a reasonable number of their graduates actually benefited from getting their degree, using their education to get a decent job.

The Trump administration is creating an alternative: the Department of Education will publish some statistics online about the schools and their graduates' employment.

As Jon Chait explained, "In the far more likely event that most students fail to seek out this information and analyze it correctly, the for-profit college industry will again enjoy a world in which they can enroll students with subsidized federal loans without having to provide anything of value to them or the taxpaying public."

Adding insult to injury is the list of related actions we've seen from DeVos. As we discussed last month, the far-right Education secretary also made it harder for students defrauded by for-profit colleges to take advantages of loan-forgiveness rules.

Let's also not forget that the Obama administration created a special team at the Department of Education to closely scrutinize dubious claims from for-profit colleges. Once DeVos joined the cabinet, she tapped a dean from a for-profit college to lead the team – and wouldn't you know it, investigators examining alleged abuses found themselves "marginalized, reassigned or instructed to focus on other matters."

If I didn't know better, I might think protecting students from predatory practices isn't exactly Team Trump's top priority at the U.S. Department of Education.