Under President Barack Obama, the government stepped in to effectively force a shutdown of Corinthian and other schools like ITT Technical Institute. But Corinthian was just the tip of the iceberg. Its shady practices were representative of widespread fraud and abuse in the for-profit college industry, which, in the fall of 2015, enrolled some 1.6 million students. There were numerous other examples of institutions, for-profit, public and nonprofit, that needed greater scrutiny.
Consider what happened at the for-profit DeVry University. Murray Hastie, an Iraq war veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, was aggressively recruited by DeVry. Mr. Hastie was told that his G.I. Bill benefits would cover all of his tuition, in addition to giving him a monthly living stipend.
However, he later learned DeVry was saddling him with more than $50,000 in student loans. When his P.T.S.D. worsened, Mr. Hastie left the school and sought treatment at a V.A. hospital. After leaving the hospital, he recounted in a forthcoming documentary, “Fail State,” he tried to enroll at his local community college, but found that all of his G.I. benefits had been exhausted.
When I joined the Education Department, it did not have a division dedicated to investigating the fraudulent consumer practices pervading many for-profit campuses. While a hardworking compliance team monitored school finances and student eligibility, we needed people specializing in consumer protection.
In 2016, the Education Secretary at the time, John King, had had enough. He told us to recruit consumer protection experts, experienced lawyers and investigators to set up a new enforcement office dedicated to combating consumer malfeasance in the education sector.
We did, and were soon reaching out to Republican and Democratic attorneys general and working with other federal agencies to bring cases to protect students and taxpayers.
As we cracked down, institutions began to change their practices. Some for-profit college chains announced limitations on the percentages of revenue that would come from federal student aid and agreed to drop clauses in enrollment paperwork that restricted the ability of students to file lawsuits.
But the change was short-lived. I left the Education Department last year. I have watched in dismay what has happened since.