Enforcement Unit Reconstituted to Protect Student Aid Against Waste, Fraud, and Abuse

The Biden administration recently announced the reconstitution of an office designed to safeguard taxpayer-funded student aid dollars and protect students from predatory colleges. The previous administration had “deprioritized” the department tasked with enforcement of student protection regulations within the Office of Federal Student Aid in a move viewed by pro-student advocates as enabling problematic behavior on the part of predatory colleges.

The history of waste, fraud, and abuse in federal student aid programs has followed a cyclical pattern, as successive political administrations imposed widely differing regulatory structures that alternately clamp down on or tolerate high-risk behaviors that particularly surface in for-profit higher education. In 1991 and again in 2012, select committees in the US Senate documented abuses, including high-pressure sales tactics and misrepresentation in the recruitment and admission process, perpetuated by predatory for-profit institutions.

The pattern of fraud and abuse remains consistent: Predatory institutions pressure students to enroll using aggressive and misleading sales tactics, saddle students with large amounts of student debt, and offer little in the way of education or improved employment prospects. Often, students are left worse off than before they enrolled. And taxpayers, in turn, are left on the financial hook when students default on their federal student loans.

As one of the latest battles in the long-running struggle to maintain consistent safeguards for students and taxpayers, the department’s announcement was welcomed by advocates for student protections, including NACAC. “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,” said US Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal. “The administration will prioritize Federal Student Aid’s effective oversight and enforcement of postsecondary schools.”

NACAC’s advocacy for stronger protections against unscrupulous recruiting practices spans several decades and involves work with a diverse range of partners, including consumer protection organizations, civil rights organizations, students, teachers unions, good governance organizations, and more. If you’d like to get involved, visit our legislative action page and write to your members of Congress to encourage them to protect students and taxpayers from predatory institutions.

David Hawkins is NACAC’s chief education and policy officer. You can reach him at dhawkins@nacacnet.org.

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