House committee subpoenas Education Department staff over for-profit colleges

Democrats on the House Education Committee have issued subpoenas for several career staff at the Department of Education as the panel investigates the owner of several for-profit colleges. 

The committee had been investigating department personnel since last year over the department’s handling of Dream Center Education Holdings as it collapsed. Dream Center owns the Art Institutes, Argosy University and South University.  

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), says Education Under Secretary Diane Auer Jones worked for the Dream Center despite knowing two of its schools had lost accreditation. 

The committee released a report from its own investigation finding that Dream Center had misled students into falsely thinking its schools were accredited and continued to receive taxpayer money. It further concluded that the Trump administration tried to protect the company from the ramifications of its actions. 

Scott in a cover letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos asked for three unnamed senior staff members to testify in depositions next month, after accusing her of repeatedly ignoring the committee’s request for documents and interviews. 

“Due to the Department’s obstruction, the Committee’s only available avenue to obtain an accurate understanding of the Department’s role in the Dream Center collapse is to pursue depositions of the knowledgeable Department officials under subpoena,” Scott wrote. “The Committee will continue its oversight of this matter with the goal of getting answers about Dream Center’s collapse.” 

Department of Education press secretary Angela Morabito said in a statement to The Hill that it is “wholly unreasonable to subpoena civil servants in this case,” and added that the committee has refused to review the documents it has sent.

 “Yet, instead of conducting business in a lawful, rational, and responsible way, the unhinged Democrats have resorted to badgering career civil servants to carry on what is nothing more than a witch hunt,” Morabito said. 

Dream Center finalized the acquisition of its schools from Education Management in 2018. As part of the acquisition, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) downgraded the accreditation of two Art Institute campuses for a period of time. 

The Commission told Dream Center in January 2018 to inform its students that the two schools were no longer accredited, the committee’s report states. It says the Dream Center instead waited until June that year to give notice. Students still kept enrolling in the school during that time.  

The Department of Education still provided students with loans despite the school not being accredited. To circumvent the issue, it declared the schools to be nonprofit institutions in May 2018, and made this effective as of January 2018, the day the schools lost accreditation. Jones then tried to convince the HLC to back-date the accreditation of the schools during that time, the Democrats charge.

Tags Betsy DeVos Bobby Scott Education Department House Education Committee subpoenas

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