Education official who helped craft student loan policy was for-profit college exec: report

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An Education Department official who was formerly an executive at a for-profit college reportedly helped shape the agency’s rollback of a policy designed to help protect students from being defrauded by for-profit colleges.

Emails reviewed by ABC News show that Robert Eitel, an Education Department adviser hired early in the Trump administration, played a role in shaping the department’s policy, which could save his former employers money.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos halted what is known as the “Borrower Defense to Repayment” law before it was scheduled to take effect on July 1 of last year. The Obama-era policy provided students with clear channels to file claims over predatory practices at for-profit schools.


In emails obtained by watchdog group Democracy Forward, Eitel is shown to circulate talking points about the policy, edit documents and approve the official delay notice.

“I have attached the draft backgrounder … together with draft talking points,” he wrote in one email, according to ABC News. “I had approved a prior version but want to make sure that it reads the same.”

Eitel signed an ethics pledge vowing to recuse himself from matters involving former employers before joining the administration. Education officials have maintained that working on borrower defense policy did not violate the pledge if he still recused himself from working on specific borrower defense claims against former employers.

Eitel’s former employers are facing a total of 1,400 claims.

DeVos has defended rescinding the rule, saying that it meant students defrauded by for-profit colleges just had to “raise his or her hands to be entitled to so-called free money,” and argued that the policy was “rushed” through.

The department is still rewriting the rule into a new regulation that DeVos said will ensure schools and taxpayers are also “treated fairly.”

Nineteen state attorneys general are suing DeVos over the move.

Eitel spent four years in the for-profit sector, as a vice president at Bridgepoint Education and Career Education Corp, two for-profit college operators. He also worked as an attorney for the Education Department under former President George W. Bush.

“Bob Eitel is a true civil servant, so it’s disappointing to see ABC News carrying water for left-wing ideologues who are actively working to try and discredit the important work that Secretary DeVos is doing to repair the damage done by the prior administration,” Education Department press secretary Liz Hill told ABC News.

“He has gone above and beyond what is required by law to recuse himself from matters involving his former employer and has operated in an ethical and transparent manner,” Hill added.

Officials in Democracy Forward said that Eitel’s involvement in halting the policy was “troubling.”

Rachael Klarman, the group’s legal analyst, told ABC News that it “raises some serious problems” for Eitel to be involved given his history in the for-profit sector.

The report comes days after The New York Times reported that the department is dismantling its investigative team focused on probing abuses by for-profit colleges.

Tags Betsy DeVos Education Department for-profit colleges regulations Student loan

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