Wednesday, May 16, 2018

U.S. Department of Education derails for-profit college investigation, hires people with for-profit college ties

"Members of a special team at the Education Department that had been investigating widespread abuses by for-profit colleges have been marginalized, reassigned or instructed to focus on other matters," Danielle Ivory, Erica Green and Steve Eder report for The New York Times. That's derailed probes of several large for-profit colleges where some of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos's top hires had worked, such as DeVry Education Group, now known as Adtalem Global Education. For-profit colleges are prevalent in rural areas or tend to attract a disproportionate number of students from young adults in rural areas.

The team was created in 2016, the last year of the Obama administration, after the collapse of California-based Corinthian Colleges. It began investigating advertising, recruitment practices and job-placement claims by several for-profit colleges, but the probe suddenly stopped early last year, and last summer DeVos named former DeVry dean and current Education Department employee Julian Schmoke as the investigative team's supervisor. Last summer the Trump administration also suspended rules aimed at protecting students from predatory for-profit colleges.

Other former for-profit college employees who now work for DeVos include "Robert S. Eitel, her senior counselor, and Diane Auer Jones, a senior adviser on postsecondary education. Last month, Congress confirmed the appointment of a lawyer who provided consulting services to Career Education, Carlos G. Muñiz, as the department’s general counsel," the Times reports.

The investigative team now only has three members, and its scope has been narrowed to focusing on processing student-loan forgiveness applications and lesser compliance cases, according to former members. Department spokesperson Elizabeth Hill said the team is smaller because of attrition, and investigations are only one way the department provides oversight. Hill said the refocus of the team's efforts isn't an indication that the department is curtailing its oversight, and said none of the new employees who had worked in the for-profit industry influenced the team's work.

"The former and current employees disputed Ms. Hill’s account, and said the group and its work had become an issue of contention during meetings with the Trump transition team," the Times reports. "Several of the employees said that there had been a staff push to continue the investigation as recently as this year, with no result."

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