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Higher education oversight should remain a bipartisan effort

December 7, 2017

Spiros Protopsaltis

Instead of delaying implementation and rewriting two major Obama-era regulations aimed at curbing institutional misconduct among for-profit universities, the Trump Administration should heed Congress’ history of bipartisan efforts to strengthen higher education oversight.

That is the message from George Mason University visiting associate professor Spiros Protopsaltis in a recent paper for the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“In the past, lawmakers from both parties championed legislative and regulatory provisions to boost accountability, driven by the goal of safeguarding student and taxpayer investments,” wrote Protopsaltis, who served as deputy assistant secretary for higher education and student financial aid at the U.S. Department of Education under Obama from 2015 to 2017. “As our higher education system continues to change and expand, it’s now more important than ever that the federal government have oversight and accountability mechanisms in place to protect students and taxpayers against waste, fraud and abuse.”

The paper was co-written by Libby Masiuk, a former senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education.

Most troubling for Protopsaltis, a fellow at George Mason’s Center for Education Policy and Evaluation, is the Trump administration’s announcement last summer that it was suspending and rewriting two key rules intended to protect students from predatory for-profit colleges: the Borrower Defense Rule and the Gainful Employment Rule.

The former establishes a process for relieving federal student loan debt of students proven to be victims of fraud by schools. The latter would make the lowest-performing career college programs ineligible for federal student aid, as measured by student debt-to-income ratio. For-profit colleges offered 98 percent of failing programs, The Washington Post reported.

But Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, in a statement, said the Borrower Defense Rule resulted from a “muddled process that’s unfair to students and schools, and puts taxpayers on the hook for significant costs.” The Gainful Employment Rule, she said, “would unfairly and arbitrarily” limit students’ access to such programs.

Protopsaltis called for the Trump Administration to work with Congress in a bipartisan way to strengthen those rules rather than, as he sees it, relinquishing vital consumer protections. He points to reforms in the post-World War II GI Bill and the 1992 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act as examples of such bipartisan and successful efforts.

“Left unchecked, unscrupulous schools prey on students and the federal student aid system,” Protopsaltis wrote. “Before embarking on yet another round of harmful deregulation, the Trump Administration should heed this history of bipartisan efforts to strengthen higher education oversight and proceed with extreme caution to avoid repeating costly mistakes of the past.”

Spiros Protopsaltis can be reached at 703-993-2119 or sprotops@gmu.edu.

For more information, contact Damian Cristodero at 703-993-9118 or dcristod@gmu.edu.

About George Mason

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 36,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.