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Merkley bill aims to protect students from worthless degrees


As college students begin returning to class, Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., introduced Thursday the Protecting Students from Worthless Degrees Act of 2018 . They said it would close a loophole that allows for-profit colleges to take federal financial aid dollars for students to attend unaccredited degree programs that often leave students deep in debt and unable to work in their chosen field.

Here’s the news release announcing the bill:

The legislation also reinstates the certification requirements from the Gainful Employment rule, which were recently proposed for elimination by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. These requirements prevented career education programs from receiving Title IV federal student aid dollars if they fail to keep their promise that students who enter a program will graduate with the necessary skills to find employment–a crucial consumer protection for students facing predatory for-profit college schemes.

“Higher education should be a path to the American Dream, but that dream is shattered if when students graduate, they find that their degrees are worthless,” said Merkley. “Predatory programs that claim to provide career preparation but instead leave students unable to work and holding the bag have no business being funded by American taxpayers. Betsy DeVos may be willing to do the bidding of for-profit colleges, but Congress needs to stand up to these predatory programs that hurt students more than they help.”

“Students and their future employers count on colleges to prepare them for a competitive workforce,” said Durbin. “We can’t let poor-performing for-profit colleges get away with defrauding students and taxpayers, and the Protecting Students from Worthless Degrees Act addresses a dangerous gap in accountability so that students get the education they paid for and employers get a prepared workforce.”

Because of a loophole in federal financial aid laws, schools that are institutionally accredited may offer individual programs that lack the state licensing or programmatic accreditation required for graduates to enter the field for which they were trained. Students who enter these programs are told that they will be prepared for a particular job, only to discover after graduating–often with heavy student loan debt–that they are not qualified to work in their intended field or even take a licensing exam.

For instance, a single mother named Yasmine Issa went back to school to become an ultrasound technician, hoping to build a better life for her family. However, even though the for-profit college she attended was accredited, the ultrasound program was not, and so she was not eligible to take the registry exam after graduating. Without this credential, she was unable to work in the field she had trained in. She accrued over $20,000 in debt and later found out that there was an accredited ultrasound program at her local community college for half the price.

The Protecting Students from Worthless Degrees Act would:

· Ensure that students and taxpayers are not left footing the bill for predatory and worthless degree programs.

· Require all programs to meet any federal or state licensure requirements and programmatic accreditation that is necessary for graduates to enter their intended field.

· Make institutions that fail to meet this crucial consumer protection requirement ineligible to receive any federal student financial assistance, including Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, G.I. Bill benefits, or Department of Defense Tuition Assistance funds.

· Undo Betsy DeVos’s recent decision to eliminate the certification requirements from the Gainful Employment rule, returning to rules that ensure that career education programs must keep their promises to students in order to receive Title IV financial aid funds.

This legislation is endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), and Veterans Education Success (VES).

“Students in career education programs are looking for a foothold into a better job, not debt with limited employment prospects,” said James Kvaal, President, The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS). “The Protecting Students from Worthless Degrees Act will help ensure that federal taxpayer dollars aren’t spent on programs that won’t qualify their graduates for employment in their field of study.”

“Veterans Education Success supports this bill as it helps protect student and tax payer dollars from going to schools whose outcomes do not lead to viable career opportunities in the fields the students are pursuing,” said Tanya Ang, Director, Policy and Outreach, Veterans Education Success. “Service members, veterans, and their families are often targeted by schools who offer these type of programs and only find out after they complete the program that they are not eligible to obtain credentials or licenses in their field of study. When they go to a school, they should know their hard earned military education benefits are being well spend and should not be saddled with student loan debt that they are unable to pay back due to lack of ability to obtain a job.”

With college costs and student loan debt continuing to rise, it is more important than ever that both students and taxpayers receive a worthwhile return on their investment, and that students are protected from fraudulent practices. The Protecting Students from Worthless Degrees Act would help ensure that students receive the quality education and meaningful career opportunities they were promised.

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