Four days after he stood on a Bellevue street corner with other protesters and denounced Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed a lawsuit against DeVos and her department.
This lawsuit is aimed at stopping the U.S. Education Department from delaying, or refusing to enforce, an Obama-era rule intended to keep for-profit college and trade schools from offering worthless degrees and leaving their graduates with high levels of debt.
In an interview, Ferguson said the rule offers “common-sense protections for folks all across the country,” and he believes it is being suspended illegally because the administration is not going through public hearings and other forms of feedback outlined by the federal Administrative Procedure Act. Attorneys general from 16 other states, plus the District of Columbia, are joining the lawsuit.
The Administrative Procedure Act “is there … to avoid exactly this situation,” in which a new administration comes in and tosses out rules developed by a previous administration, he said.
DeVos suspended the rule this summer, calling the regulations “overly burdensome.”
It’s the 17th such lawsuit Ferguson’s office has filed against the Trump administration; his office has also intervened in four other cases to defend rules it believes the administration isn’t defending.
The “gainful employment rule,” as it is called, aims to hold postsecondary schools accountable for the quality of the education they offer. It is a new rule that would stop the flow of federal financial aid to schools whose graduates aren’t making enough money to repay the student loans they took out to earn their degrees.
In early January, before Trump was sworn in, the Department of Education released a list of more than 800 schools nationwide that had failed the gainful employment test. Almost all of the schools were for-profit colleges.
But no school has yet lost federal funding. DeVos’ predecessor, John B. King Jr., said in a conference call with reporters in January that the numbers were released to give career colleges “an opportunity and in some cases a warning to improve the quality of their programs.”
The gainful employment rule requires colleges and other postsecondary schools to provide accurate information about average earnings and debt loads of their graduates.
The rule gives postsecondary institutions many different ways to show they are meeting their obligation to prepare students for gainful employment, “and only penalizes those institutions that repeatedly and flagrantly failed to do so,” according to the lawsuit.
Ferguson’s office has also filed a motion to intervene in a federal lawsuit that challenges Obama-era rules on student loans. He has joined other state attorneys general in arguing that those rules deter predatory for-profit colleges from violating consumer-protection laws. And his office is also suing Navient, the nation’s largest loan servicer, for a range of business practices, including allegedly making unauthorized robocalls, doing a poor job of tracking payment processing errors, steering borrowers into costlier repayment options and misapplying payments.
“Long before Donald Trump was president, we’ve been pretty focused in this office on student loan issues,” Ferguson said. “This is not a new issue for the office, but it is frustrating to me the Trump administration is not following this rule.”