September 16, 2019
By Andrew Kreighbaum, Inside Higher ED
In her first significant act as Education Secretary more than two years ago, Betsy DeVos said she planned to overhaul an Obama administration student loan rule designed to protect borrowers defrauded by their college.
Despite her efforts, the Obama borrower-defense regulations took effect last year. But on Friday DeVos capped off a two-year effort by issuing her own rule, which scales back loan forgiveness opportunities for student borrowers.
The new regulations significantly raise the bar for student borrowers seeking debt forgiveness based on claims they were defrauded by their colleges. They add a new three-year time limit for those borrowers to file claims, and each case will be considered individually, even if there is evidence of widespread misconduct at an institution.
Borrowers will also be asked to demonstrate they suffered financial harm from their college’s misconduct and that the college made deceptive statements with “knowledge of its false, misleading, or deceptive nature.”
The collapse of the Corinthian Colleges chain and subsequent flood of debt-relief claims prompted Education Department officials under the last administration to issue the 2016 borrower-defense rule.
Although the rule was a response to misconduct in the for-profit college sector, it applied to all Title IV institutions. And private nonprofit college groups had expressed concerns that their institutions could be on the hook for student claims even for unintentional mistakes in marketing materials. DeVos had made clear previously that she thought the regulations were too permissive, essentially offering borrowers the chance at “free money.”
“We believe this final rule corrects the wrongs of the 2016 rule through common sense and carefully crafted reforms that hold colleges and universities accountable and treat students and taxpayers fairly,” she said in a statement accompanying the rule.
Education Department officials said the new three-year time limit for claims aligns with record-retention requirements for colleges. They said the process will give institutions the opportunity to respond to claims and students the chance to elaborate on claims based on those responses.
The DeVos regulations will save the federal government about $11 billion over 10 years, the department estimates (the federal government shoulders the cost of loan discharge if it cannot recoup funds from the institutions themselves). Consumer advocates argue those savings are created by rigging the system against borrowers.
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