Education Dept. dismantles team focused on fraud at for-profit colleges: report

Education Dept. dismantles team focused on fraud at for-profit colleges: report
© Greg Nash

The Education Department has in recent months largely dismantled a team charged with investigating abuses by for-profit colleges, The New York Times reported Sunday.

The investigative team was created in 2016 to look into widespread fraud claims against for-profit colleges. Roughly a dozen investigators and lawyers were later added to the unit.

The Times reported that the team now consists of three employees, who focus mainly on student loan forgiveness applications. The investigations into for-profit colleges have largely come to a stop, according to the report.

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Multiple former Education Department employees told The New York Times that members of the investigative unit had pushed as recently as this year for its work to continue. However, the probes were a point of dispute between Obama-era employees and officials who joined the department in the Trump administration.

The newspaper reported that Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosFederal court rules Trump’s Education Dept violated privacy laws Dem senator: Trump Jr. may have given 'false testimony' about meeting with foreign nationals Rep. Espaillat: Why I fight for protecting immigrant students and the future of the nation MORE has hired a number of aides who previously worked at for-profit colleges that were under investigation, including DeVry Education Group and Bridgepoint Education.

Julian Schmoke, a former dean at DeVry, was reportedly tapped to head the investigative unit last summer. According to the Times, the investigation into DeVry was halted not long before Schmoke was hired.

Elizabeth Hill, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, told The New York Times that DeVos’s new aides did not influence the direction of the investigative team. She also attributed the dwindling size of the team to attrition.

DeVos has undone a series of Obama-era rules during her time leading the Education Department, including some that protected students who had been defrauded by for-profit schools. 

Last year, she halted the “Borrower Defense to Repayment” law, which provided students with clear and fair channels to file claims over predatory practices at for-profit institutions. 

She defended the move, saying it was rushed, and that under the existing rule, students had to “raise his or her hands to be entitled to so-called free money.”

In October, she faced a lawsuit from more than a dozen Democratic attorneys general over her refusal to enforce an Obama-era rule that stopped federal financial aid funding from going to for-profit colleges that leave students with low income and massive debt loads.