Members of a team at the U.S. Department of Education that had been investigating abuses by for-profit colleges have been marginalized, reassigned or instructed to focus on other matters, current and former employees say.
The New York Times reports that the unwinding of the team has effectively killed investigations into possibly fraudulent activities at several large for-profit colleges where top hires of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, had previously worked.
During the final months of the Obama administration, the team had expanded and was looking into advertising, recruitment practices and job placement claims at several institutions, including DeVry Education Group.
The investigation into DeVry ground to a halt early last year. Later, in the summer, DeVos appointed Julian Schmoke, a former dean at DeVry, as the team’s new supervisor.
Now only three employees work on the team, and their mission has been scaled back to focus on processing student loan forgiveness applications and looking at smaller compliance cases. Former members of the team spoke about the changes on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation from the department.
In addition to DeVry, now known as Adtalem Global Education, investigations into Bridgepoint Education and Career Education Corporation, which also operate large for-profit colleges, were curtailed.
The investigative team had been created in 2016 after the collapse of the for-profit Corinthian Colleges, which set off a wave of complaints from students about predatory activities at for-profit schools.
The institutions had been accused of fraud that involved misrepresenting enrollment benefits, job placement rates and program offerings, which could leave students with huge debts and no degrees.
Elizabeth Hill, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, attributed the reduction of the investigative team to attrition. She says that none of the new employees who had previously worked in the for-profit education industry had influenced the unit’s work.