A win for predatory for-profit colleges, a loss for Kentucky

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testified before a Senate subcommittee in June.
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testified before a Senate subcommittee in June. AP

As a result of the Trump administration’s latest favor to for-profit colleges, Kentuckians will again be misled into wasting their financial aid dollars on education programs that lead not to a job or career but to choking debt.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos last week moved to rescind the “gainful-employment rule” which the Obama administration had enacted to protect students from borrowing money to pay for career-education programs that had a terrible track record of actually preparing anyone for a career.

The for-profit education sector depends on tax dollars in the form of grants and government-backed loans. DeVos’ move will send an additional $5.3 billion over 10 years to programs, most of them for-profit, that would otherwise have lost federal funds because of their poor debt-to-earning ratios, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Of that amount, about $4.5 billion would be Pell Grants, which go mostly to students with total family incomes of less than $20,000, and the rest would be student loans.

For-profit colleges invest heavily in advertising and aggressively recruiting students. Their ability to suck up financial aid dollars through heavy spending on recruitment leaves less state and federal aid for students who enroll in community and technical colleges that charge much lower tuition, are aligned with local industries and have a better record of preparing students for the job market.

This transfer of money from low-income students to for-profit colleges is the last thing Kentucky needs as it struggles to lift education levels that lag the rest of the nation and prepare more people for the workforce.

But then what do you expect from a president who once ran his own Shyster U? President Donald Trump agreed to pay $25 million to students who filed a class action lawsuit claiming fraud by Trump University.

It’s not just Trump though. Republicans in Congress also support lifting the Obama-era pressure on for-profit colleges to provide students with something of value and probably would have tried to end the “gainful-employment rule” even if DeVos hadn’t.

Earlier, DeVos gutted a team that was investigating abuses by for-profit colleges and put what remains of that team under the control of an official of a defunct for-profit college. She also is moving to curb debt relief for students who were victims of predatory for-profit colleges.

Students who are cheated by for-profit colleges, like the 2,000 Kentuckians who were eligible for debt relief after being defrauded by the now closed Corinthian Colleges, would be excluded from such relief in the future, if DeVos gets her way. And it would become harder for state attorneys general and other consumer advocates to hold for-profits accountable, such as in 2015 when Daymar College in Owensboro agreed to a $12.4 million settlement that allowed debt forgiveness and cash payment for more than 12,000 students.

Preying on people’s desires to better themselves through education, then failing to deliver, is a despicable business model. It’s even more despicable when the government helps the predators as this administration is doing again and again.