The House has voted to overturn a Trump administration rule that makes it more difficult for students who were defrauded by their colleges to seek loan forgiveness. The measure now moves to the Senate — where its fate should be kept under a glaring spotlight.
Republican senators have the opportunity to show America whether they’re willing to rein in predatory for-profit colleges and address a towering crisis facing their former students. All indications are that they aren’t.
President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos didn’t create the college-loan crisis, but they appear determined to make it worse. DeVos has long displayed a soft spot for scammy for-profit colleges (of the kind that Trump himself once owned before he agreed to a $25 million fraud settlement) and hostility toward struggling students.
Throughout her tenure, DeVos has slow-walked debt-relief claims from students, including veterans, who were saddled with massive debt for worthless degrees from schools that misrepresented their programs and placement rates and then, in many cases, folded. Far from cracking down on that fraud, her department helped perpetuate it, once approving $11 million in federal aid to ineligible colleges.
It’s especially egregious that the administration has rolled back Obama-era rules that helped students cancel debts from for-profit scammers. A rewrite set to go into effect July 1 would put new time limits and other restrictions on defrauded students who are trying to get their loans forgiven.
Under the new rules, each claim would have to be considered separately, even when evidence is clear of widespread misconduct at a given institution. And students defrauded by those institutions would have to prove that the fraud caused them “financial harm” — as if debt for a meaningless degree isn’t its own proof.
In a mostly party-line vote Thursday, the Democrat-controlled House passed a measure to roll back those new rule changes and restore those needed protections to students. The measure faces almost certain defeat in the Republican-controlled Senate.
But because the measure was passed under the auspices of the Congressional Review Act — which allows Congress to overturn regulatory decisions by a simple-majority vote of both chambers — Senate Leader Mitch McConnell won’t be able to resort to his usual strategy of refusing to even allow debate. There will have to be a floor vote, and Republicans will have to declare where they stand: with the defrauded students, or with the for-profit colleges that prey on them.
In an era where even student debt for legitimate degrees has hit crisis proportions, it’s difficult to fathom the thought process that concludes the proper way to address fraud by for-profit colleges is to make it harder for their students to shed that debt. If GOP senators have a defense for backing the scammers, it better be a doozy.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.