Democrat senators have urged the Department of Education to reverse course on the dismantling of the Student Aid Enforcement Unit’s investigations. The senators wrote to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, asking her to uphold her commitment to hold colleges accountable for misleading, cheating, or defrauding students.
The letter, according to a recent press release, was signed by Senators Elizabeth Warren, Patty Murray, Claire McCaskill, Bill Nelson, Dick Durbin, Richard Blumenthal, Tammy Baldwin, Sherrod Brown, Ben Cardin, Tom Carper, Chris Coons, Catherine Cortez Masto, Dianne Feinstein, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Maggie Hassan, Mazie Hirono, Amy Klobuchar, Ed Markey, Chris Murphy, Jack Reed, Bernie Sanders, Jeanne Shaheen, Tina Smith, Debbie Stabenow, Jon Tester, Chris Van Hollen, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Ron Wyden.
Last August, during her confirmation hearing, DeVos promised to maintain consumer protections for students and borrowers and develop “a stronger approach” to oversight.
However, the Democrat senators said that DeVos has not kept her promise. The secretary has been hiring former for-profit college executives and lobbyists, which, according to the senators, led to the Department of Education abandoning its investigations against predatory schools.
In the letter to DeVos, the senators wrote that it is crucial that the Department of Education fulfill its mission to protect students, particularly when they rely on federal student aid.
Senator Elizabeth Warren pointed out that the department has reduced the staff dedicated to oversight and monitoring, thereby putting an end to several investigations and reviews of large for-profit college chains. According to a report by the New York Times, the team has gone from about a dozen lawyers and investigators looking into advertising, recruitment, and graduate employment claims of several institutions at the end of the Obama administration to just three team members.
The senators also expressed deep concern regarding DeVos’ recent decision to restore the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools’ (ACICS) status as a federally recognized accreditor. The decision follows a March 2018 court ruling remanding former Education Secretary John King’s decision to revoke ACICS’s status.
According to a report by Inside Higher Ed, ACICS, which oversaw 245 institutions, was investigated by Department of Education authorities after two large for-profit college chains it accredited — Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute — collapsed.
“We are deeply concerned that your April 3rd decision to restore ACICS’s status as a federally recognized accreditor as you conduct a further review will put students and taxpayers directly in harm’s way,” the senators said in the letter.