Federal authorities are cracking down on colleges accused of defrauding their students. The Department of Education launched a new enforcement unit Monday to investigate those institutions, the Washington Post reports.
Scores of students have complained about schools, especially for-profit colleges, that inflated their job placement statistics, encouraged them to take on excessive student debt and committed other types of misconduct.
Acting Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said students should expect to receive the education and skills they spend time and money to obtain.
“When that doesn’t happen, we all pay the price,” he said at Monday’s news conference. “This new unit will allow us to respond more quickly and efficiently to allegations of illegal actions.”
The self-contained enforcement unit has four divisions staffed with 50 people. It collaborates with state and federal authorities and has subpoena power.
“Our office is going to work every day as hard as we can to stop abuses and to promote the fairness and the integrity of the financial aid process,” said Robert Kaye, the attorney heading the unit.
Kaye, who worked 14 years at the Federal Trade Commission, reports to Jim Runcie, the COO of the Office of Federal Student Aid.
“It is simply imperative that students taking on substantial financial obligations to further their education not be subject to unlawful enrollment tactics, that they get accurate information … particularly about job placement,” Kaye added.
President Barack Obama’s 2017 budget proposal requests $13.6 million for the unit. King said the funding would boost its efforts, but the investigative section would still accomplish its mission if lawmakers reject the additional resources.
This energized effort to uproot corruption comes in the aftermath of the Corinthian Colleges probe. California officials and federal investigators concluded that the school deceived students about their chances of getting a job. A federal judge ordered the now defunct college to pay $550 million to settle a lawsuit.
The new unit now oversees requests for federal loan forgiveness from former Corinthian College students.
Critics have accused the government of dragging its feet on investigating alleged college fraud. Lauren Asher, president of the nonprofit Institute for College Access and Success, called the launch an essential step toward ending the misconduct.
“We hope that the new unit moves quickly to better protect students and taxpayers from school fraud, and we urge Congress to further invest in the department’s enforcement capacity,” she said.