The Department of Education has several deregulation proposals, all of which will make it easier for unsavory schools to take money from unsuspecting students.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has already gone to great lengths to ensure that for-profit colleges can scam students. Now, if DeVos has her way, the Department of Education will deregulate certain types of higher education providers — and make it easier for students to get ripped off.
Generally, DeVos doesn't like protecting students. She tried to block loan forgiveness — the process by which students who attended schools that have since closed were able to get some of their federal loans written off — and only started to cancel loans after a judge ordered her to re-implement an Obama-era loan forgiveness rule. And she killed investigations into fraud at for-profit schools.
Now DeVos wants to make this kind of fraud easier by deregulating accreditors, the organizations that approve college and university programs. DeVos thinks that accreditation rules suppress innovation. What they actually suppress, though, is the ability of unscrupulous schools to take advantage of students.
One proposal from the Department of Education would be to allow accredited schools that receive federal education funds to contract with non-accredited providers for over 50 percent of an educational program. In that instance, students may not even know that they're receiving instruction from a non-accredited provider.
DeVos would also like to redefine how schools calculate credit hours. Under Obama, the Department of Education defined a credit hour as an hour of classroom instruction plus at least two hours of homework each week. The deregulation proposal would get rid of that, which could allow schools to artificially inflate credit hours in order to charge students more.
There's also a move to deregulate how an "instructor" is defined in higher education. Accreditors would get to define that, rather than the Department of Education. A college instructor could potentially be anyone under that standard.
The deregulation proposals also make it easier for unscrupulous agencies to become an accreditor in the first place, by eliminating the requirement for new accrediting agencies to wait two years before being allowed to help administer federal financial aid.
All of this adds up to a near-foolproof scheme: DeVos makes it easier for unsavory groups to become accrediting agencies. Those agencies look away when schools outsource their educational duties and inflate their credit hour costs. Those schools get federal funds, which means that people attending them can take out federal loans. Those federal loans are then spent on a subpar education at for-profit giants like Corinthian Colleges — which gave thousands and thousands of students misleading job placement data and raked in cash before imploding in 2015.
Under DeVos' scheme, the only people who lose are the students — students who are disproportionately female, African-American, and older, and who have a greater likelihood of being a single parent. Additionally, tuition is often higher at the for-profit institutions that will benefit from this plan, which leaves the students who attend them in even deeper debt.
These schools often exist to profit off of the people who can least afford it — and DeVos is working hard to help those schools scam even more people.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.