WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), and Tom Carper (D-Delaware) have sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education urging stronger protections for students in career education programs — particularly those at for-profit colleges — who often take on significant debt and are frequently left with meager job prospects. Video of Durbin’s statement is available here.
The Higher Education Act requires all career education programs to prepare students for “gainful employment in a recognized occupation” in order to be eligible to receive federal student aid. The senators are urging the Department of Education to strengthen and improve its recently proposed rule so that the rule better protects students and taxpayers. Harkin, as Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, released a report on the findings of a two-year investigation of the for-profit higher education industry, which would be subject to the “gainful employment” rule along with other career education programs. The 2012 report showed that between 2009 and 2010, more than half a million students at for-profit colleges left with debt but no diploma, despite a $32 billion annual investment by taxpayers in the schools.
“We applaud your continued leadership in protecting students, including veterans, service members and their families, from predatory career education programs and we appreciate the Department of Education’s ongoing efforts to enforce the statutory requirement that all career education programs which receive federal funding ‘prepare students for gainful employment,’” the senators wrote. “However, we urge you to issue a stronger regulation than has recently been proposed. It is critically important that the Department of Education safeguard students and taxpayers from those career education programs that leave students saddled with exorbitant debt and poor job prospects.”
“For several years, the for-profit industry has sought to significantly weaken this rule. It is past time for this common-sense measure to be finalized immediately in a way that keeps the best interests of students in mind,” the letter continues. “Students should graduate with more opportunity – not a mountain of debt and inadequate career preparation.”
The senators specifically urged Secretary Duncan to establish a rule that would:
- Hold career education programs accountable when a large proportion of their students find themselves unable to repay their student debt.
- Better protect borrowers from poorly performing programs by creating enrollment caps to impose on all unsuccessful programs. Imposing enrollment caps would incentivize programs to make needed changes and protect other students from enrolling in these programs until they significantly improve.
- Give students borrower relief if they attended a failing career education program. Any students who took out loans to attend such programs should not be saddled with debt they cannot pay off and these loans should be assumed by the institution.