Attorneys general from 18 states, along with the District of Columbia, are suing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Education Department for their recent actions freezing federal loan debt forgiveness for students claiming fraud. The rules in question are known as borrower defense and aim to protect students from the predatory practices of for-profit colleges. They were finalized by President Obama in October of 2016 after a lengthy negotiation process and were set to go into effect as of July 1. DeVos brought them to a screeching halt, leading to public outrage and legal proceedings in many states.
DeVos was able to pause the changes to the borrower defense rules once President Trump took over the White House. She did so in June, pointing to a federal lawsuit initiated in May by a group of for-profit colleges in California looking to put a stop to the rules altogether.
In their federal suit against DeVos and the Department of Education, the attorneys general claimed that the supposed reasoning behind the reexamination of the borrower defense — the California lawsuit — was “mere pretext” for DeVos and the DOE to repeal existing rules and replace them with their own.
The collection of attorneys general, all Democrats, who filed the lawsuit come from the District of Columbia, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. They are working to have the rules restored in full.
Maura Healey, the attorney general of Massachusetts, was the leader of the states' joint effort to fight the changes. According to The New York Times, she stated:
Since day one, Secretary DeVos has sided with for-profit school executives against students and families drowning in unaffordable student loans. Her decision to cancel vital protections for students and taxpayers is a betrayal of her office’s responsibility and a violation of federal law.
In a press release from the Department of Education, DeVos openly bashed the rules, calling them “a muddled process that’s unfair to students and schools." The release also included a statement of her intention to start over again from the beginning with forming the rules, creating her own committee and reconsidering the issue all together.
In doing so, critics argue that Devos would set the country back years in its development of protection for students falling victim to for-profit colleges, making the extensive deliberation and negotiation of the previous administration a waste of time. Romper has reached out to the DOE for additional comment on the lawsuit and is awaiting a response.
DeVos specified in her statement that those claims that are already being processed under the borrower defense will be upheld:
Nearly 16,000 borrower defense claims are currently being processed and promises made to students under the current rule will be promises kept. Some borrowers should expect to obtain discharges within the next several weeks.
For-profit colleges have long been criticized of exploiting students and selling them expensive, often worthless degrees. Unfortunately, these exploitations often target one of the most vulnerable demographics: low-income or poor students. In comparison to accredited state and private colleges and universities, tuition costs of for-profit colleges are often much higher. According to NPR, this is because their only form of revenue comes from tuition fees. To maximize financial gain for the college (at the expense of the students), these colleges often place tuition costs around the max of what a student can borrow in federal student loans.
The loss of the borrower defense is a loss of protection for these students. As the attorneys general move forward with their lawsuit, they are providing a defense for American students for which DeVos has shown little interest.