If you’ve followed the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee investigation into the for-profit higher education industry closely, you have probably heard of Yasmine Issa, the single mother of twins who completed a training program in ultrasound technology at Career Education Corporation’s Sanford Brown University in 2008 only to find out later that the program was not accredited. Recruiters, who had stressed the school’s accreditation to Issa, apparently neglected to mention that the ultrasound program lacked the necessary specialized accreditation. As a result, Issa, who paid $32,000 for the program (including $15,000 in federal loans), wasn’t eligible to sit for the licensing exam or to find work as a sonographer.
Issa is not alone. The Senate investigation, the news media, and lawsuits against for-profit college companies suggest that her situation is more common than you would think. Recognizing the seriousness of the problem, the Department of Education took an important step last fall when it finalized regulations that aim to crack down on such abuses. Under the rules, which go into effect on Friday, schools that mislead students into signing up for programs that lack the specialized accreditation needed to get jobs could face severe penalties, including being barred from participating in the federal student aid programs.
This is a major change that, if well enforced, should go a long way in safeguarding students in the future. But this regulation is of little solace to those who have already fallen victim to such deception. These students have been left worse off than before they enrolled -- graduating with significant debt but without the credentials they need to become gainfully employed in the field for which they sought training.
Is there anything that the U.S. Department of Education can do to help these students? The answer is yes, but unfortunately the Education Department continues to act as if it was powerless to provide relief to those who have been harmed.