Viewpoint

Under DeVos, who’s the next Charlotte School of Law?

For-profit Charlotte School of Law closed after failing to meet standards.
For-profit Charlotte School of Law closed after failing to meet standards. File photo

“I will not aid and abet predatory for-profit schools that rip off students and shackle them with unpayable debts.”

If we had our way, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos would be required to write that sentence 100 times on a blackboard. It’s a lesson she surely needs to learn.

Most students borrow huge sums of money to go to college and graduate school. They deserve degrees that are worth the time, effort and money they invest.

RobertWeissman1
Robert Weissman

Unfortunately, many for-profit schools exploit students’ desire to obtain education and skills for a successful career. Instead of providing a legitimate education, they charge a lot for low-quality classes that leave them unprepared for professional success.

Until recently, the U.S. Department of Education was cracking down on predatory schools. Officials were successful in cutting off the flow of federal loan money to some of the worst abusers – ITT Educational Services and Corinthian Colleges. Without the ability to feed off taxpayers, these schools had to shut down.

One school that has received well-deserved scrutiny from the Education Department is Charlotte School of Law. Last year, the Education Department found that the school was failing to comply with basic standards set by the American Bar Association. Mounting problems included questionable admissions practices, high faculty turnover and low rates of students passing the bar exam.

The Education Department ended the school’s access to federal student loan dollars after concluding that the law school made “substantial misrepresentations to current and prospective students.” That duplicity appeared to be central to the business model of Charlotte School of Law, part of a chain of three for-profit law schools owned by a Chicago-based private equity firm, Sterling Partners.

But deceiving students and doing the bidding of corporate interests is Trump administration policy.

Despite months of turmoil at Charlotte School of Law, the Education Department under Secretary DeVos set out conditions under which this failing law school could once again receive federal student loan money. Lobbying for the school in Washington, D.C., was a former Education Department official from the Bush administration who helped guide DeVos through her confirmation.

Thankfully, this misplaced effort to rescue this failing institution fell flat. Its license to operate in North Carolina expired and the school has closed. Investigations and lawsuits are following, as the Observer reported this week.

With DeVos at the helm, it’s fair to wonder whether the government will ignore the woes of Charlotte Law’s sister institution, Arizona Summit Law School, which was put on probation this spring.

Under DeVos, important student protections are also under threat, such as the “gainful employment” rule, which aimed to deny federal funds to career-training schools with track records of leaving students with high debt levels and low incomes.

DeVos also wants to undermine recent improvements to a process that ripped-off students can use to get their loans forgiven. Without these protections, many former Charlotte Law students will have a harder time discharging their loans. (Public Citizen represents two former students of a for-profit college who have sued to challenge the Education Department’s decision to delay this “borrower defense” rule.)

It’s not asking too much to expect the Department of Education to advance the interests of students rather than get-rich-quick schemes whose business model revolves around cheating students.

If writing on the blackboard isn’t enough to teach DeVos a lesson, then she should be expelled.

Weissman is the president of Public Citizen, a nonprofit advocacy group in Washington, D.C. Email: rweissman@citizen.org

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