Merkley, Durbin, Krishnamoorthi Introduce Bill to Protect Students From Worthless Degrees

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL-8) today introduced the Protecting Students from Worthless Degrees Act of 2019 in the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. This legislation would close a loophole that allows for-profit colleges to take federal financial aid dollars for students to attend or enroll in unaccredited degree programs that often leave students deep in debt and unable to work in their chosen field.

The introduction comes amid an ongoing battle between lawmakers and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who refuses to forgive the debts of tens of thousands of Americans who were victimized by abusive for-profit colleges.

“Higher education should be a path to the American Dream, but that dream is shattered if students graduate with worthless degrees,” said Merkley. “American taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing predatory programs that claim to provide career preparation, but instead target financially vulnerable students with programs that will leave them with no job prospects. Betsy DeVos may be willing to do the bidding of for-profit colleges, but Congress needs to stand up to these predatory programs that are hurting students and families in communities across America.”

“Unfortunately, many students who enroll in for-profit colleges and universities believe that they are being trained or educated to do a certain profession. Too often, they find out after completing and taking on debt that their program does not qualify them to become licensed in the profession they trained for,” Durbin said. “Our bill ensures that students will have a chance to actually be a part of the profession that their school claimed they were being trained for by prohibiting federal financial aid dollars from going to programs that don’t meet the requirements for students to be certified or licensed in that profession.”

“American students today are spending massive amounts of time, money, and effort to obtain a college degree but many are completing their degree only to find that they lack the basic prerequisites to start their career,” said Krishnamoorthi. “This legislation ensures that taxpayer dollars only go to programs that fulfil their promises to their students and restricts funds to higher education institutions that offer predatory or valueless programs. Obtaining a quality education is the foundation for building a family-sustaining career in the middle class, and it is imperative we protect students and taxpayers from predatory and valueless programs.”

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.

The legislation also reinstates the certification requirements from the Gainful Employment rule, which were recently eliminated 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.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low-income clients), and Veterans Education Success (VES) have endorsed the bill.

“The Protecting Students from Worthless Degrees Act is a common-sense measure that will prevent students from enrolling in programs where they would be ineligible to find employment in the occupation they are pursuing. It also reinforces that states retain the right to enforce their laws to protect students and taxpayers,” said TICAS Policy Advisor Brett Robertson.

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.

The full text of the Protecting Students from Worthless Degrees Act is available here.