Opinion

DeVos Just Pulled a Full Marie Antoinette And Retracted Fraud Rules Against For-Profit Colleges

Welp, now we’ve at least closed the circle on Betsy DeVos and for-profit colleges. She’s gone from evading questions about whether she would regulate these fraud machines to disbanding the team charged with investigating them. Now, she flat out withdrew the gainful employment rule, signaling to all that under her watchful eye, the DeVrys, the Trump Universities, and the Corinthian Colleges are free to flourish – while unwitting students and their families can simply eat cake.

The “gainful employment rule,” you may remember, is the one adopted in 2016 under the Obama administration, after several cash-cow diploma mills found themselves defending fraud lawsuits brought by swindled students. The rule prohibited these businesses from using deceptive practices to entice customers to plunk down thousands in student loan money when the corresponding “degree” wasn’t worth the expensive paper on which it was printed. Or in other words, exactly what Trump University was accused of doing. It was also the rule Senator Elizabeth Warren skewered DeVos on at DeVos’ confirmation hearing.

In the DOE’s press release issued yesterday, Secretary DeVos unctuously couched her decision to eliminate oversight as a protection for higher ed students. “Students deserve useful and relevant data when making important decisions about their education post-high school,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. “That’s why instead of targeting schools simply by their tax status, this administration is working to ensure students have transparent, meaningful information about all colleges and all programs. Our new approach will aid students across all sectors of higher education and improve accountability.”

Let me get this straight. Harvard might also be swindling students, the difference between for-profit and non-profit is meaningless, and American consumers will be better protected if there are no rules. Gotcha. It’s Betsy’s world, and we’re just living in it. That logic sounds like it may have been part of the DeVry curriculum, brought to Ms. DeVos’ attention by her right-hand man, and diploma-mill professor emeritus Julian Schmoke.

Viewed in context with the rule’s past success, DeVos’ decision is even more infuriating. Steve Gunderson, the president of Career Education Colleges and Universities, the for-profit industry’s trade association, told the New York Times that the rule had been quite effective in making the education marketplace safer for students. Gunderson, a for-profit insider, explained that these institutions made adjustments in both cost and curriculum in order to comply with the rule and become appropriately responsive to the job market.

Gunderson said, “The reality is every school that has a program that was failing gainful employment metrics — and they knew it couldn’t be fixed — they’ve already closed. The sector today is so much better.”  “Better,” though, is apparently a relative term, especially in DeVos’ DOE. John King, the DOE Secretary under Obama and DeVos’ predecessor, called the decision to eliminate the rule “outrageous and irresponsible.”

Never mind the fact that DOE research has already shown that students who enroll in for-profit education pay more, borrow more, and default more than do students in traditional non-profit educational institutions. Never mind the fact that many of these institutions have been found to practice predatory sales tactics and false advertising. Apparently, our now-booming economy affords us the luxury of increasing our already astronomical student debt without so much as a thought of correlation between education and employment prospects.

Perhaps DeVos’ lack of empathy for those victimized by the for-profit education machine is borne of the same deranged detachment causing her to require 10 yachts or a 22,000-square foot summer “cottage” with eight dishwashers. Or perhaps she’s just a champion of the underdog, committed to leveling the playing field between those ivy-league “elites” and newcomers to the education game.  Yes, that must be it. Free market, y’all.

[Image via Mark Wilson/Getty Images]

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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