TWO STUDENT ADVOCACY groups have filed separate lawsuits against Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, one alleging her Department of Education allowed an operator of for-profit schools to mislead students and sack them with debt they are now unable to repay, and another that accused her of continuing to refuse to discharge the student loan debt of borrowers previously enrolled in for-profit schools that abruptly shuttered.
The lawsuits were filed Tuesday, the same day House Democrats threatened to subpoena DeVos for obstructing their investigation into the department’s role in allowing the operator of for-profit colleges to mislead students and continue operating the schools despite losing their accreditation.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by National Student Legal Defense Network is directly related to the subpoena issued by House Democrats. It alleges that the Education Department’s actions “caused students at the schools to borrow money and waste months of their lives in pursuit of an education they did not know was unaccredited.”
In the revelatory “Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy,” the sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom introduces us to London, a 48-year-old widow and single mother of three children. London lives in rural North Carolina, and has watched as decent working-class jobs in the textile industry disappeared from her region. She hopes to land an office job with benefits, and knows she needs additional training. But she fears she would be turned away from the oversubscribed local community college because of her lack of academic preparation.
So London has gone deep into debt enrolling in five for-profit college programs, only one of which she has completed. At various times she trained to be a child care provider, a medical biller, a computer technician and, most recently, a medical assistant. Cottom asked London what she would do if she could not find the middle-class health care administration job she desired — a type of position that often requires training in a medical specialty like cardiology. London’s program at a branch of for-profit Everest College does not provide such specialized training. She smiled and told Cottom, “Jesus is my backup plan.”