Strong college accountability is key to reducing the number of students left worse off by burdensome student debt. Stronger policies, oversight, and enforcement are urgently needed to ensure that students are not attending high-cost low quality programs, and that practices that prey on vulnerable students and our nation’s veterans are not permitted. These problems are of particular concern in the for-profit college sector, where borrowing rates, debt levels, and default rates are highest. For-profit colleges enroll only nine percent of college students but account for one-third of all student loan defaults.

Thirty-seven state attorneys general have jointly investigated potential fraud by for-profit colleges, and the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have sued major for-profit colleges. Yet just in the past year the abrupt closures of three for-profit colleges has left more than 50,000 students with debt but few options to complete their degrees.

The repeal of the gainful employment rule in July 2019, which had proved a successful tool to lower costs and improve the quality of career programs, will have a detrimental impact on students as well as cost taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion over ten years. Students who are lured into taking student loans as result of lies misrepresentations will also have little chance of cancelling these loans under the Department of Education Borrower Defense to Repayment Rule finalized in September 2019.  In fact, just three percent of students who have taken loans based on lies and misrepresentations by schools would likely be successful in asserting a borrower defense to repayment, and colleges would be held responsible for just 1 percent of loans made based on misconduct. The removal of these guardrails puts students and taxpayers at greater risk of unaffordable debt, higher rates of defaults, and wasted time and money.

Strengthen Policies to Prevent Waste, Fraud and Abuse

It is imperative that Congress maintain existing accountability mechanisms, many of which Congress adopted with bipartisan support and have proven successful over the course of decades. These critical protections include the cohort default rate (CDR) and the 90-10 rule both of which can and should be further strengthened.

It is also more critical than ever that Congress act to put in place new accountability protections. Legislation introduced in 2019 (S. 867, H.R. 3512) provides a comprehensive set of policy solutions to ensure both students and the taxpayer investment are protected. Known as the PROTECT Act, the bill reinstates the safeguards offered by the gainful employment rule, provides a fair process for students to cancel loans when schools defrauded or lied to them, prohibits colleges from using federal financial aid dollars for marketing and advertising, stops colleges from blocking students’ access to the courts, and  prevents the exploitation of student veterans by for-profit schools. For information on the broad coalition of student, consumer, civil rights, veterans, and college access organizations working to better protect students and taxpayers, visit ProtectStudentsandTaxpayers.org.