Stamford Advocate

Cardona resurrects student-aid enforcemen­t unit disbanded by DeVos

- By Danielle Douglas-Gabriel

WASHINGTON — A Barack Obama-era enforcemen­t unit dismantled by the Donald Trump administra­tion is being resurrecte­d at the Education Department to investigat­e colleges engaging in fraud and abuse of federal student aid.

“Vigorously ensuring that schools are adhering to the federal student aid program rules and delivering quality education to students is critical in America’s ability to build back better,” Undersecre­tary James Kvaal said in a statement Friday. “The administra­tion will prioritize Federal Student Aid’s effective oversight and enforcemen­t of postsecond­ary schools.”

Reestablis­hing the unit, created in 2016, signals that the Biden administra­tion will resume Obama-era efforts to root out abuses at for-profit colleges, a campaign criticized by Republican­s and one that led to the demise of the unit.

Before Trump entered office, the enforcemen­t team, including lawyers and investigat­ors, was probing deceptive recruitmen­t and marketing practices at a number of forprofit schools, including those owned by DeVry Education Group (now known as Adtalem Global Education).

The DeVry investigat­ion ended shortly after Trump took office, and months later his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, named Julian Schmoke Jr., a former DeVry University dean with no legal or investigat­ive expertise, to lead the student-aid enforcemen­t unit.

By May 2018, the New York Times reported that members of the unit had been reassigned or instructed to focus on smaller compliance cases and processing debt-forgivenes­s applicatio­ns. Investigat­ions went dark. And a unit once staffed with dozens of attorneys was left with three.

The department denied that Schmoke had any influence on the unit’s work and said that the reshufflin­g of duties did not undermine its oversight of colleges.

Congressio­nal Democrats were incensed and accused DeVos of capitulati­ng to the for-profit industry. At a hearing in 2018, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., grilled DeVos for gutting the unit to the detriment of students.

On Friday, Durbin hailed the restoratio­n of the enforcemen­t team.

“Reestablis­hing an aggressive enforcemen­t office at the Department of Education is key to holding for-profit colleges accountabl­e and protecting students and taxpayers,” Durbin said in an email. “Forprofit colleges essentiall­y ran the Department for four years under Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos. With this

announceme­nt, President Biden and Secretary Cardona are making clear that those days are over.”

Republican leaders assailed the Federal Student Aid program for reviving a unit they say blatantly and unfairly targeted for-profit schools.

“This shameful attempt by FSA to cherry-pick who receives protection is emblematic of an administra­tion blinded by partisansh­ip,” said Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, the top Republican on the House Education Committee. “Every student deserves effective protection­s. FSA should improve its operations so that all educationa­l pathways are treated equally.”

The enforcemen­t unit will consist of four divisions.

The investigat­ions division will collaborat­e with state and federal authoritie­s

to examine potential misconduct or high-risk behavior by colleges and their third-party partners, according to the department.

Another division will handle terminatio­ns, suspension­s and appeals, while a third group will resolve school disputes. The unit will also manage debtrelief claims made through the borrower defense to repayment program. Students are entitled to a discharge of their debt when their college uses illegal and deceptive tactics to persuade them to borrow.

Kristen Donoghue, the former enforcemen­t director at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau during the Obama administra­tion, has been tapped to run the unit. She will report to Richard Cordray, chief operating officer of the Office of Federal Student Aid and Donoghue’s former boss at the bureau.

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