By Mary Ellen Flannery
Betsy DeVos’ attempts to protect predatory for-profit colleges that have defrauded students—and to sabotage students’ ability to get debt relief from the federal government—hit a major roadblock in the U.S. House on Thursday.
By a 231 to 180 vote, the House passed a resolution to block DeVos’ efforts to gut protections for student borrowers and taxpayers in the nearly 30-year-old “borrower defense rule.”
“By passing this resolution, the House made clear that we care more about defending defrauded students than enriching predatory schools,” said U.S. Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV). “We told Betsy DeVos that we’re not going to sit on the sidelines while these institutions scam our families, our friends, our neighbors, and our veterans while they’re trying to get an education.”
The borrower defense rule dates to 1992, when Congress reauthorized the Higher Education Act. It was strengthened during the Obama administration after the abrupt collapse of the massive, for-profit Corinthian College chain in 2014, which left tens of thousands of students holding mountains of debt and worthless degrees, or no degree at all.
Essentially, “borrower defense” allows those students with federal student loans to seek federal loan forgiveness when their colleges engage in fraudulent practices. With her rewrite of the rule, DeVos would make it more difficult for students to get relief. For example, the rule would no longer provide for automatic debt relief when colleges abruptly close.
NEA strongly supports the existing protections, and has gone on record in fierce opposition to DeVos’ revisions. “Rather than safeguarding students, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is choosing to weaken the borrower defense rule and protect unscrupulous colleges,” wrote Marc Egan, director of NEA government relations, in a letter to Congress earlier this week.
Egan also pointed out that “The DeVos rule is especially cruel considering that those who are most vulnerable to targeting by these predatory institutions include veterans, older students, students of color, disabled students, and students who are the first in their families to attend college.”
With passage in the House, the resolution moves to the Senate where “Senators will now have a chance to go on the record,” said Dick Durbin (D-IL), in introducing the resolution (S.J. Res. 56). “Are you with the students or the predatory industry that defrauded them with worthless degrees and a lifetime of debt?”
Since her appointment, DeVos consistently has promoted a pro-privatization agenda that elevates the interests of for-profit institutions over students. Recently, a federal judge held her in civil contempt, and fined ED $100,000, because it has persisted in collecting on the student loans taken by 16,000 former Corinthian students—going so far as to garnish the wages of 1,800 people—in direct violation of the judge’s orders to stop.
Earlier this week, the attorneys general of 19 states, plus the District of Columbia, also wrote to Congress, saying the DeVos revisions would “be disastrous for students while providing a windfall to abusive schools.”