Editorials

EDITORIAL

DeVos hurts students by gutting for-profit fraud probe

FILE — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos attends a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 15, 2018. Newly unsealed court documents reveal that some of the world’s richest people, including DeVos and her relatives, invested millions in the discredited blood-testing company Theranos. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)
Erin Schaff/New York Times Photo
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos attended a hearing on Capitol Hill in March.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos defends those whose concerns align with her own. Unfortunately, that does not include all of the current and future students she has been charged to protect.

In a move garnering more disgust than surprise, DeVos effectively shut down investigations into possibly fraudulent practices at several for-profit colleges. By gutting the assigned team, she has crippled efforts to crack down on inflated job-placement claims, recruitment practices, and predatory advertising that prey on students. Through reassignments, orders to use their energies elsewhere, or marginalization, the team has been whittled from about 12 investigators to three. Now its primary focus is processing student loan forgiveness applications and smaller compliance cases.

Education Department spokesperson Elizabeth Hill told The New York Times the reduction is the result of attrition and that “conducting investigations is but one way the investigations team contributes to the department’s broad effort to provide oversight.”

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Under DeVos, there’s reason to be skeptical about serious oversight of for-profit colleges. That’s why state officials must fill the gaps eroding federal scrutiny of these institutions.

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Given that this initiative was created during the final year of the previous administration, it was probably always doomed. Yet this goes beyond President Trump’s obsessive need to erase everything Obama. In 2005, Trump got into the for-profit college business; by 2010, Trump University, which authorities later called a “sham,” was gone. In 2016, Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle fraud claims lodged by former students. That settlement was approved in federal court earlier this year.

For this administration, undermining oversight of for-profit colleges is a personal crusade.

In 2017, DeVos scrapped an investigation into the controversial DeVry Education Group. A year earlier, DeVry paid $100 million toward a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive ads about the school’s job success and income levels.

DeVos didn’t just let DeVry off the hook. She also hired Julian Schmoke Jr., one of its former deans, as the department’s chief enforcement officer. He now supervises the team assigned to monitor fraud in higher education — including for-profit schools.

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Numerous state attorneys general, including Maura Healey of Massachusetts, have sued the Education Department for delaying loan relief for students defrauded by for-profit schools. Healey has also filed two other suits relating to for-profit schools. While these actions are commendable, states also need more preventive oversight to protect consumers from institutions that see potential students only as stooges for their scam schools. With the regulation-adverse Trump administration unwilling to protect the vulnerable, it’s up to state governments to do what the federal government will not.