Public must be protected against predatory colleges

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

Given Donald Trump’s campaign promises to wipe out “job killing” regulations on Day One, no one should be surprised that the Trump administration is going after federal safeguards that protect consumers at the expense of corporate profits.

But surely there’s some limit to that. Even the leaders of a wholly dysfunctional administration must recognize that fraud is fraud. Out-and-out cheating, lying to potential customers, isn’t just unethical. It’s illegal. And the worst fraud in the higher education world during recent decades has been perpetrated by for-profit colleges that grossly overstate their graduates’ ability to land good jobs, that talked students into applying for loans they would almost certainly be unable to repay and that bamboozled them into signing away their right to sue should they discover how dishonestly they had been treated.

Nevertheless, in mid-June, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that she was holding off on implementing two key Obama-era rules designed to prevent colleges from luring students into unaffordably large loans and to provide loan-repayment relief to students who had been defrauded by bad school operators. DeVos said the regulations might be too burdensome for the colleges, and she wanted to look into creating new rules. Recently 19 attorneys general sued, arguing that the administration lacked the authority to unilaterally put the brakes on the regulations, and aiming to force DeVos to make good on what students had been promised.

These colleges’ practices have been costly to taxpayers as well as to students, with default rates on federally guaranteed student loans that were sky-high compared with those at other schools. That’s what happens when pricey institutions draw in low-income students who then can’t find the jobs that have been rosily dangled in front of them.

ITT Technical Institutes closed in 2016 after the department said it no longer would provide federal financial aid to the school’s students, after allegations emerged that ITT was misrepresenting its graduates’ job-placement rates and providing a substandard education.

Responsible for-profit colleges should support strong, protective rules; the reputation of the industry as a whole has fallen under the shadow of its worst members. Leaving the public with no protection from the predatory players within the college industry — and leaving taxpayers to pick up the tab for the loan defaults that would inevitably follow — would be the higher education equivalent of repealing Obamacare and leaving Americans with no insurance at all.

This editorial first appeared in The Los Angeles Times. Send comments to editorial@therepublic.com.