President Trump continually promises to “put veterans first,” but his administration’s early moves indicate he is willing to keep that pledge as long as it doesn’t cut into the profits of for-profit colleges.
The president’s Education Department is working to roll back policies — implemented with bipartisan support — that protect student veterans from bad actors in the for-profit college industry.
Opposition to the administration’s goals is beginning to coalesce. This month, a broad coalition of veterans and advocates will swarm public hearings in Washington, D.C., and Dallas to testify against the rollbacks, while a group of 19 state attorneys general announced a lawsuit against the Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for activity that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey called “unsustainable, unfair and illegal.”
Veterans are particularly attractive to for-profit colleges because they are eligible for up to $19,200 a year in federal education benefits, and they return from the battlefield without a clear plan for the future. The for-profits employ hard-sell tactics, promising high quality programming and “guaranteed” job placement, but delivering very little.
Over the past few years, numerous state and federal investigations highlighted abuses ranging from false advertising to outright fraud. State attorneys general and the federal government began to crack down on these abuses, sending enrollment, profits and stock prices of the for-profits plummeting.
Dozens of campuses were shuttered and one of the industry’s largest for-profit chains was forced into bankruptcy. Students caught in the trap were receiving help with the mountain of debt they had accumulated to pay for the worthless programs.
The for-profit sector was finally experiencing a reckoning.
Unfortunately, just six months into the Trump administration, the reckoning has become a renaissance.
Only months after Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle claims against his own for-profit university, his administration is pursuing a broader private-sector role in higher education. This has the for-profit industry cheering, its stocks soaring and its investors betting.
What’s in jeopardy are the protections put in place for students.
DeVos immediately reached into the for-profit sector to hire a senior adviser — someone who served as a vice president at Bridgepoint Education, Inc., a for-profit school fined last year by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for “deceiving students into taking out private student loans that cost more than advertised.”
Trump’s Education Department recently announced a delay in the implementation of one of the signature protections: the gainful employment rule.
This rule requires that for-profit and nonprofit career education programs receiving federal funds must prepare students for an actual job in a recognized occupation.
The delay in the rule’s implementation means that for-profits will have more time to enroll more student veterans in sub-par programs without any warning or information. By removing accountability for these shady practices, the administration will unshackle for-profits from the burden of truth.
Additional regulations put in place to provide federal student loan relief to defrauded borrowers and make it harder for schools to hide fraud are also in jeopardy.
And pending legislation in Congress to close a loophole that allows for-profit colleges to be almost entirely dependent on federal funds is likely dead.
Tighter rules and regulations not only protect students from being duped, they protect taxpayers from waste, fraud and abuse. Taxpayers pay on average twice as much to send a veteran to a for-profit college compared to a public community college. Since the Post-9/11 GI Bill went into effect in 2009, the federal government has funded more than $8 billion in education benefits. Eight of the top 10 recipients are large, publicly traded companies that operate for-profit colleges, and seven of those eight schools have been investigated for consumer fraud, according to a 2014 Senate Committee report.
The Trump administration, in its rush to delay and dismantle these crucial protections, has revealed itself as an administration eager to reward for-profits and wealthy investors for defrauding its students and veterans.
If Trump really cared about the vets, he would expand, not eliminate, these indispensable protections.
It would be a disservice both to veterans’ military service and America’s promised investment in their post-military careers not to do so.
Matthew Boulay is the executive director of the Veterans’ Student Loan Relief Fund and an Iraq War veteran.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.