For Student Advocates, a Worrying Week of Departures From Obama-Era Policy

"An exchange in January between President Trump's then-nominee to lead the Education Department, Betsy DeVos, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, caught national attention. The moment was fraught with tension, as Ms. Warren grilled the philanthropist on her credentials to be the nation's top education officer during a tumultuous confirmation hearing," The Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

"'Do you support protecting federal tax dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse?' Ms. Warren asked.

Ms. DeVos said that she would review the regulations enacted during the Obama administration designed to rein in predatory for-profit colleges to make sure they were having their intended effect.

'Swindlers and crooks,' Ms. Warren said, 'are out there doing back flips' over that answer.

This week, student and borrower advocates argue, they stuck the landing.

There were early signals of what higher-education policy under the Trump administration might look like. But the picture became clearer this week, with the department’s announcement that it would roll back two key regulations aimed at reining in abuses by for-profit colleges, and a news organization’s report about changes in how the Office for Civil Rights will investigate complaints.

Secretary DeVos announced on Wednesday the decision to delay and renegotiate the two regulations — the borrower 'defense to repayment' rule and the gainful-employment rule — saying the previous administration had created a 'muddled process that’s unfair to students and schools.'

'These announcements, around the regulations, confirm that this administration is exactly who we thought they were,' said Ben Miller, senior director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. In the immediate wake of President Trump’s election in November, Mr. Miller said, there were questions about how his administration might govern, and whether it would have a 'populist' identity.'Movements like the ones announced yesterday show there’s no populism in higher ed,' he said. 'This is a giveaway to lousy schools at the expense of students.'

Elizabeth Hill, a spokeswoman for the department, told The Chronicle in an email that the department — and the administration, as a whole — aimed to "protect students from predatory practices while also providing clear, fair and balanced rules for colleges and universities to follow," by renegotiating the rules."

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Publication Date: 6/19/2017

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