Trump administration stymies release of salary, loan debt data from certain colleges, advocates say

File photo of an ITT Technical Institute campus in Anaheim, California.

Susan Goldman | Bloomberg | Getty Images
File photo of an ITT Technical Institute campus in Anaheim, California.

At a recent conference on financial aid, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said that every school should help its students graduate with high-quality career prospects and little debt.

Students should be equipped, she added, with information that allows them to be responsible consumers. “They need to have the best possible tools, data, advice and support,” DeVos said, at the Georgia World Congress Center in late November.

Yet at another session at the same conference, Cynthia Hammond, a top Education Department official, said the agency wouldn’t be releasing student debt information on certain programs. “We will not be doing another round of debt-to-earnings rates at this time,” Hammond said to the audience.

Career education programs, including most for-profit colleges, are required to disclose debt and earnings data to prospective and current students, as part of the so-called gainful employment regulation. Under the rule, poor-performing programs are at risk of losing their federal funding.

The regulation is intended to provide students, “with the best information possible when they’re making one of the biggest investments they’re ever going to make,” said Michael Itzkowitz, a senior fellow at Third Way, a think tank in Washington.

The Education Department under DeVos has proposed eliminating the rule. Yet the soonest any such change could go into effect is July 2020, and so advocates were alarmed by Hammond’s comments at the conference. The department has already pushed back the date that schools need to publicly share their gainful employment information.

Critics of DeVos say the delays in data disclosure are another example of her siding with the for-profit industry.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos 

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Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

The department can’t access the debt-to-earnings data on different programs because its agreement with the Social Security Administration — which provides the information — has lapsed, said Education Department Press Secretary Liz Hill. She noted that a request to the agency to renew the agreement in March went unanswered.

A spokesman for the Social Security Administration said the agency notified the Education Department in May that it would not enter into a new agreement. He declined to comment further, citing ongoing litigation.

However, no official agreement between the Social Security Administration and the Education Department is needed for the agencies to exchange the gainful employment data, said Eileen Connor, the litigation director at Harvard University’s Project on Predatory Student Lending.

She called the department’s most recent explanation, “a complete smokescreen for DeVos to be able to accomplish the gutting of the gainful employment regulation.”

At the financial aid conference, Hammond explained that the new disclosures certain schools need to display on their websites no longer must include data on student debt or job placement rates

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