Department of Education Policing Universities with Student Aid Enforcement Unit

The Department of Education, in its latest move to enlarge the ever-expanding education bureaucracy, has announced plans to create a Student Aid Enforcement Unit to better respond to “predatory institutional activity.” The Student Aid Enforcement Unit was established following an investigation of prohibited tactics in student recruiting. It will apply to any school receiving federal aid.

The unit, which will be led by former Federal Trade Commission (FTC) official Robert Kaye and housed under Federal Student Aid (FSA), will consist of four sub-units focused on investigations, borrower defense claims, administrative actions and appeals, and the disclosure of campus crime statistics. The initial unit will include more than 50 employees.

The vague, open-ended language of Department of Education regulations allows for an exponential increase in smaller regulations. For example, current regulation requires an institution to administer federal aid “with adequate checks and balances in its system of internal controls.”

However, for some, this already-overreaching regulation is not enough. Earlier this month, the Center for American Progress (CAP) released a report, “Looking in All the Wrong Places: How the Monitoring of Colleges Misses What Matters Most,” calling for further regulation in higher education. CAP’s suggestions include measures such as devoting greater staff time and training to reviews and establishing special teams that monitor advertising and recruitment.

Critics of the Student Aid Enforcement unit have questioned the underlying motives of the Department of Education and have vocalized concerns over the Obama Administration’s unfair targeting of the for-profit institution industry. One higher education policy analyst, denouncing the new unit as a publicity move, asked:

“Does the department really need a new initiative to deal with problematic institutions, or is this a public relations move to try to convince the public the department really, really cares about students?” – Neal McCluskey, Director of the Cato Institute Center for Educational Freedom

McClusky’s assertion that the Department of Education is in need of a good public relations move is not unfounded. In addition to the recent negative media attention surrounding the Common Core opt-out movement, the department is engulfed in scandals regarding its highest officials.

A mere few days before the department’s announcement of the unit, USDOE Chief Information Officer Danny Harris testified before the Congressional Oversight and Reform Committee regarding allegations of impropriety. In the hearing, Harris admitted to the Inspector General his failure to report to the IRS income relating to two side businesses. Internal corruption in the Department of Education is particularly alarming now that the agency is now asking Congress for $13.6 million in funding for the Student Aid Enforcement Unit in 2017.

This expensive request indicates that the Department of Education is not only sticking their noses in matters of higher education, but also wasting millions of tax dollars in the process.

In creating the Student Aid Enforcement Unit, the Department of Education once again demonstrates that it is blind to the long-term effects of overreach. The department, while trying to solve the problem of skyrocketing tuition, fails to see the expensive, vast bureaucracy it has created surrounding higher education.

If anyone is “looking in all the wrong places” it is the Department of Education. The problem seems to be hiding in plain sight.