Colleges and Universities

Op-Ed Columnist: No Profit in Betsy DeVos

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Back to the Department of Education. One of DeVos’s top advisers, Robert Eitel, is on a leave of absence from a company that operates for-profits and once paid more than $30 million to settle charges of deceiving students about the loans they were getting.

Which is, again, even more than that real estate school, where some students claimed they were encouraged by instructors to increase the limits on their credit cards. …

There are well over 3,000 for-profit colleges and universities in the country, everything from tiny schools that promise to set you off on a career in cosmetology to conglomerates with campuses all over the world. Some of them have names that might seem intended to be confused with somebody else’s. (Not necessarily thinking of you, Brown College, Berkeley College, Columbia Southern University or Northwestern College.)

Experts say some for-profits are fine. However, there have been a ton of horror shows in which low-income men and women are promised a path to life-changing jobs but wind up with nothing to show except huge loan bills.

ITT Technical Institute in Florida gave students the impression they’d be having careers along the line of “C.S.I.: Miami.” Actually, they frequently wound up working as security guards, degree in hand and $50,000 in debt.

There are so many awful for-profit school stories. There was that one in New York that sold students a $35,000 “Gold Elite Package” and had to change its name to “Entrepreneur Initiative” after the state determined it had no right to call itself a university. …

“The outcomes for people who take out loans at for-profits are abysmal,” said Ben Miller of the Center for American Progress. He added that almost all the students borrow, for courses they could sometimes get for one sixth the price at a community college. And about half the people who borrow default.

As the stories about deceitful for-profits mounted, the Obama administration came up with regulations making it easier for students to refuse to pay their loans if a school had misrepresented their chances of graduating and getting a lucrative career. The rules were supposed to go into effect in July, but DeVos has delayed their implementation.

Insiders call those regulations “borrower defense to repayment.” However, if you prefer, you could also refer to them as “something that reminds us of a certain school that used to promise its students fabulous careers in the real estate industry. …”

O.K., we’re talking here about Trump University. I knew I couldn’t fool you forever. Cynics might wonder if DeVos has been going to the defense of for-profit colleges so quickly because she wants to please her boss. Who might not enjoy seeing a lot of headlines about greedy colleges that make promises they never intended to keep, being brought down by the forces of justice.

But let’s be positive. Perhaps we could be grateful that DeVos is giving us opportunities to bring up Trump University on a regular basis. As a sort of cautionary tale.

For instance, the Department of Education has stopped approving new fraud claims against for-profits, leaving a backlog of more than 87,000. Every time the number goes up, we could say, “This is even more than the number of students who complained about their loans for Trump University.”

If DeVos says what the country needs now is less regulation, we can recall that Trump University had instructors allegedly handpicked by Donald Trump himself, although it turned out that he’d never even met them.

Consider it a teaching moment.

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Wendy Pettit

Wendy Pettit is a writer for NYT and writes for other publications on her spare time. She lives in Chicago with her husband and her dog Zuko.

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