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Press Release

AG Shapiro Leading 18 States to Stop Trump Administration’s Illegal Elimination of Safeguards for College Students

June 24, 2020 | Topic: Rights

HARRISBURG – Attorney General Josh Shapiro filed suit today with 18 other Attorneys General to stop U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos from eliminating critical protections for students considering enrolling in for-profit colleges and vocational schools.

For years, for-profit and vocational colleges engaged in fraudulent and abusive practices — including deceptive marketing — to convince students to enroll in useless academic and training programs. Those practices left students across the country with piles of debt and no jobs to pay off that debt.

In 2014, the Department of Education issued a rule requiring all offending programs to warn students about the dangers of enrolling and ultimately would have made those same programs ineligible to enroll students using federal financial aid. This rule was known as the Gainful Employment Rule, named for the provision in the Higher Education Act, which it enforced.

In a new rule set to take effect next week, the Department of Education has repealed the Gainful Employment Rule’s protections with the Repeal Rule, which is a license for for-profit colleges to take advantage of students looking to find educational programs to help advance their careers.

“The removal of the Gainful Employment Rule by the Trump Administration returns us to an era when the federal government did little to stop for-profit colleges from preying on vulnerable students. It will send us back to a time when bad-actor companies like ITT, Corinthian College, and EDMC were allowed to prey on our young people to take billions of dollars and deliver sub-par educations, or no education at all,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “The consequences of this repeal will be particularly devastating as many Pennsylvanians are right now looking for new educational opportunities to work their way out of the economic damage caused by the COVID public health emergency.”

The 2014 rule worked to hold for-profit institutions accountable for the future success of their students, and reinforced a requirement in the Higher Education Act that all for-profit schools, all vocational schools, and non-degree programs at all other schools should “prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation.”

The Repeal Rule, through which the Trump Administration has effectively announced it will not enforce a key part of the Higher Education Act, will injure Pennsylvania and its taxpayers in several important ways:

  1. Students will use aid that states offer to help their residents better their lives to instead, unwittingly, enroll in worthless for-profit programs,
  2. Instead of enrolling in public institutions of higher education that states have established to make the crucial benefits of higher education available to everyone, students will enroll in worthless proprietary or vocational programs, causing taxpayers to lose the value of their investment in state systems of higher education
  3. Now that the U.S. Department of Education has decided to stop regulating for-profit colleges, students will look to states to make sure predatory institutions selling substandard programs are held accountable.
  4. Despite states’ increased enforcement efforts, more students will enroll in worthless programs run by proprietary institutions, forcing more students to carry an inordinate financial debt load.

The states’ lawsuit says Education Secretary DeVos’ “decision to repeal the GE Rule without promulgating any alternative standard for implementing the Higher Education Act’s Gainful Employment provision is arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law … and must be set aside.”

In 2017, Shapiro and 17 other Attorney General sued Education and DeVos for refusing to enforce the Gainful Employment Rule.

Pennsylvania AG Shapiro is co-leading this lawsuit against the Trump Administration with Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, Colorado Attorney General Philip Weiser, and New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. They are joined by the Attorneys General from Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

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