The coronavirus pandemic has forced students to reconsider their college plans, and the effect of their choices will be long-lasting. Unfortunately, these choices have the potential to be devastating to the most vulnerable students. Low-income students and students of color – the very students who are already bearing the brunt of this pandemic – face an increased risk of aggressive recruiting and misrepresentations by predatory colleges. This was the case during the “Great Recession,” during which for-profit colleges experienced double-digit annual increases in enrollment, while student protections were simultaneously rolled back by the federal government. This culminated in spikes in student loan defaults, numerous government investigations of colleges’ wrongdoing, and a number of school closures.
Similarly, the current recession triggered by COVID-19 follows the federal government’s weakening of rules intended to regulate for-profit institutions, including policies on accreditation, gainful employment, borrower defense, and state authorization. The combination of a surge in enrollment, lax federal regulation of for-profit institutions, cuts to states’ college and university budgets, and a massive shift to online instruction creates a situation ripe for fraudulent and predatory behavior.
Given states’ key role in consumer protection, it is essential that state authorizers take steps to protect students and ensure that institutions are providing a high-quality, appropriately priced education, and not engaging in predatory behavior. The Institute for College Access & Success and Student Defense have sent a letter to state authorizers, regulators, and attorneys general urging them to closely monitor for-profit schools for red flags that may indicate risk to students, and to take action when needed to protect students from predatory institutions.