In the 15 months following President Donald Trump’s inauguration, students across the United States filed roughly 24,000 fraud complaints with the Department of Education, nearly all of them against for-profit colleges.

According to the Associated Press, about half of the complaints were continued fallout caused by Corinthian College and ITT Technical Institute, two for-profit chains that shut down after defrauding tens of thousands of low-income students. Many others were directed at DeVry University and University of Phoenix, which remain in operation.

Unfortunately, those complaints won’t go far. Under Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Department of Education has taken a sympathetic view of for-profit colleges, which skyrocketed in popularity during the Great Recession — and ended up leaving countless students unprepared for the workforce and loaded with debt.

That’s where L.D. 103 comes in. The bill, from Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, would give the commissioner of the Maine Department of Education the power to make sure for-profit colleges live up to their promises, and to terminate their degree-granting authority if they don’t.

The federal government has that power, but the Trump administration has neglected to use it — it took a lawsuit from state attorneys general, including now-Gov. Janet Mills, to keep student-centered rules in place. We shouldn’t rely on it to keep watch over a troubling industry.

The number of students enrolled in for-profit colleges boomed from 650,000 in 2000 to 2.5 million in 2010, when the recession pushed so many people out of the workforce and into a search for new skills.

Many of the schools took advantage of these eager students. To entice students to sign on, they would exaggerate the earning potential of a degree, and mislead on the cost and length of programs.

Because for-profit colleges often rely almost solely on federal student loans for funding, they’d target low-income students who were sure to qualify. Some were caught falsifying financial aid forms so that students would receive higher amounts — which were then handed right over to the institutions themselves.

As a result, students were saddled with high debt — their average debt is far higher than that of students at public and private non-profit institutions.

In Maine, where in 2017 there were 11 for-profit colleges serving 3,600 students, a report found that students at for-profit schools had more than twice the debt of those at public universities and colleges.

What’s more, the debt-laden students often have trouble finding jobs. Graduates of for-profit vocational programs have been unable to repay their debt. In Maine, about 56 percent of for-profit college borrowers are unable to make payments on their loans. And when someone defaults on their federally backed student loan, everyone else is forced to pick it up.

With for-profit colleges, not only is the time and potential of a student trying to better themselves often wasted, but also a lot of taxpayer money.

Neither are good, but the waste of potential hurts most. Mainers need to be empowered to gain new skills, and those skills have to be tied to real opportunity in the workforce.

Maine students deserve protection. For-profit colleges need oversight. If the federal government can’t be relied on to provide either, Maine must step up.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: