Black col­leges sup­port roll­back of debt-re­lief rule

Good ac­tors wrongly tar­geted along with bad, they con­tend

The Dallas Morning News - - News - Erica L. Green, The New York Times

WASH­ING­TON — When Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos be­gan rolling back reg­u­la­tions to curb the preda­tory prac­tices of for-profit col­leges, crit­ics seethed that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion was throw­ing yet another life­line to a ra­pa­cious in­dus­try — in this case, one that sees vul­ner­a­ble un­der­grad­u­ates as noth­ing more than mon­ey­mak­ing tar­gets.

Henry Tis­dale, pres­i­dent of the small campus of Claflin Univer­sity in Orange­burg, S.C., dis­agrees.

Since the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced that it would es­tab­lish a smoother path­way for stu­dents to claim that they had been mis­led by their col­leges, Tis­dale said he has feared an ex­pen­sive le­gal bat­tle over the small­est leaflet ad­ver­tis­ing a ser­vice on campus.

“A small mis­take or er­ror at a col­lege like Claflin could put us out of busi­ness,” Tis­dale said. “We don’t have the re­sources ready to re­spond to friv­o­lous claims.”

Tis­dale and his coun­ter­parts at other small, his­tor­i­cally black col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties are among an un­likely co­hort of sup­port­ers for DeVos’ ef­fort to tighten a wide-rang­ing reg­u­la­tion that of­fers fed­eral debt re­lief to stu­dents who were de­frauded or de­ceived by their higher-ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions.

While the rules tar­geted for-profit col­leges with bil­lion­dol­lar bud­gets, they ap­ply to all in­sti­tu­tions — in­clud­ing small, non­profit col­leges like Claflin that have been ed­u­cat­ing low­in­come, mi­nor­ity and first-gen­er­a­tion stu­dents for more than a cen­tury without scan­dal.

“It’s a reg­u­la­tion that should be fo­cused on the bad ac­tors, and we have been lumped in when we’re serv­ing the stu­dents the bad ac­tors are prey­ing on,” Tis­dale said. “We be­lieve it should be im­proved to pre­vent un­in­tended con­se­quences.”

DeVos’ plans to over­haul the Obama-era rules for stu­dent bor­row­ers reached a cru­cial stage last week, as a com­mit­tee con­vened to rene­go­ti­ate the reg­u­la­tions be­gan de­bat­ing the bur­den of proof stu­dents would have to meet to win claims against in­sti­tu­tions.

The Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment has pro­posed that stu­dents es­tab­lish “clear and con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence” that in­sti­tu­tions mis­led them, com­pared with a “pre­pon­der­ance of ev­i­dence” stan­dard ap­plied un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. Stu­dents would also have to prove that in­sti­tu­tions had an “in­tent to de­ceive,” “knowl­edge of fal­sity” and “reck­less dis­re­gard” that re­sulted in fi­nan­cial harm to bor­row­ers.

Of­fi­cials in the de­part­ment said dur­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions this week that they be­lieved the cur­rent pre­pon­der­ance-of-ev­i­dence stan­dard did not suf­fi­ciently pro­tect tax­pay­ers and in­sti­tu­tions.

But Jose­line Gar­cia, a ne­go­tia­tor on the panel and pres­i­dent of the U.S. Stu­dent As­so­ci­a­tion, said she be­lieved the new stan­dard swung too far in the op­po­site di­rec­tion.

“I think that switch­ing to ‘clear and con­vinc­ing’ does the op­po­site for stu­dents,” Gar­cia said. “It doesn’t pro­tect them at all.”

She added: “Al­though the in­sti­tu­tion may have made an hon­est mis­take, the harm is still the same for the stu­dent. And peo­ple’s lives are greatly im­pacted by that harm.”

DeVos has cast the Oba­maera reg­u­la­tions as tax­payer­funded money grabs. In an­nounc­ing the re­peal of the rules, she said that in­sti­tu­tions of all types raised con­cerns about “ex­ces­sively broad def­i­ni­tions of sub­stan­tial mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion and breach of con­tract, the lack of mean­ing­ful due process pro­tec­tions for in­sti­tu­tions and ‘fi­nan­cial trig­gers’ un­der the new rules.”

The United Ne­gro Col­lege Fund, which has joined the cho­rus of crit­i­cism over the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s lack of tan­gi­ble com­mit­ment to his­tor­i­cally black col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, has long been among the most vo­cal op­po­nents of the Oba­maera rules.

Since the rules were an­nounced in 2015, the col­lege fund has ex­pressed con­cern that they could threaten the vi­a­bil­ity of its 37 mem­ber in­sti­tu­tions, which in­clude Claflin, Spel­man Col­lege, Morehouse Col­lege and Shaw Univer­sity. The mem­ber in­sti­tu­tions col­lec­tively ed­u­cate 60,000 stu­dents on cam­puses of about 2,000 or fewer, and 75 per­cent of their stu­dents re­ceive fed­eral Pell grants.

The fund has said that the rules have a dis­pro­por­tion­ately neg­a­tive ef­fect on their mem­ber in­sti­tu­tions be­cause they have his­tor­i­cally been un­der­fi­nanced and serve vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions. They fear hav­ing to spend thou­sands of dol­lars fight­ing claims in­stead of back­ing aca­demic pro­gram­ming at in­sti­tu­tions that have been grad­u­at­ing stu­dents who con­sis­tently post high suc­cess and sat­is­fac­tion rates.

Con­sumer rights and stu­dent ad­vo­cates say the new stan­dards es­sen­tially ask stu­dents who prob­a­bly can­not af­ford to hire lawyers to be­come them.

“The ad­min­is­tra­tion is ef­fec­tively ask­ing bor­row­ers to have con­ducted a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion, with the power of dis­cov­ery, that turns up some very se­vere find­ings from their in­sti­tu­tion be­fore fil­ing a bor­rower-de­fense claim,” said Clare McCann, deputy di­rec­tor for fed­eral higher ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy at the New Amer­ica Foun­da­tion.

Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment of­fi­cials on the rule-mak­ing com­mit­tee said they could not out­line how a stu­dent would meet the new bur­den of proof. But they said they be­lieved, based on the claims that they have re­viewed, that stu­dents could meet the stan­dards if they were in­formed about them.

DeVos an­nounced last month that her de­part­ment would be­gin no­ti­fy­ing more than 20,000 stu­dents whether their claims had been ap­proved. Some would see only par­tial re­lief un­der the new sys­tem.

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Henry Tis­dale, pres­i­dent of Claflin Univer­sity,uw166id:uw-d9uv-du6d­hylYvi19/u1ffd6i9hu:davu6dlidfu(Y//d:.urAu/nYllu ni/vYk­du16ud6616uYvuYu@1lld­hdu­lik­duClY4ui9u@1yl:u(yvuy/u1yvu1­fuay/i9d//csu-du/Yi:.

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