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More Unsurprising Headlines: On-Line Learning Enterprise Bilked Student Borrowers

September 24, 2017

Politico reported earlier this week that the Education Department’s Office of Inspector General found that “…the nation’s leading provider of online competency-based education violated federal student aid rules and should return more than $712 million received in student loans and Pell Grants.

After reading Politico’s description of Western Governors University’s wrongdoing, knowing of current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ tendency to give privatizers the benefit of the doubt, and the current President’s personal experience operating a shady “University”, I would be surprised if anything happens to the college. The fact that Western Governors University had to “…navigate a complicated – and sometimes decades-old – set of federal rules governing when they’re eligible for federal aid” and the fact that Western Governors officials “strongly disagree” with the findings led one college official, Scott D. Pulsihper, to conclude that the education department would not follow through on the IG’s recommendations. Mr. Pulsipher was quotes as saying:

We’re willing to think differently (in delivering education to students) There is no doubt that there will be traditionalists who can see some of the things that we do as a challenge.

This traditionalist has some things that Western Governors University as a challenge. Given that “a central issue in the inspector general’s report is the federal requirement that distance education programs provide “regular and substantive” interaction between teachers and students” and the inspector general found that “more than 50 percent of Western Governor University courses don’t provide adequate faculty-student interaction to qualify as “distance education,” I do not see how the school could possibly qualify for federal student aid.

Politico reported that Western Governors University now has 30 days to submit additional information about the audit report – and then the ball’s in the department’s court. There’s no deadline under which the department has to make a decision on the IG’s recommendation… and then they offer the following:

– But many education observers say it’s difficult to envision the Education Department carrying through with such a crippling – and what would likely be unprecedented – $712 million financial penalty against the school. It’s usually politically challenging for the department to impose stiff penalties against any college, much less one that has powerful and bipartisan allies on Capitol Hill. (Some context: The department’s $30 million fine against Corinthian Colleges in 2015 was one of its largest ever.)

– Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in a tweet on Thursday that he was “fully confident the Education Department will reject this Education Department OIG report.”

– And the department is already signaling some support for the institution. “We are currently reviewing the OIG’s report,” department spokeswoman Liz Hill said in an email. “It is important to note that the innovative student-first model used by this school and others like it has garnered bipartisan support over the last decade.”

It may have garnered bipartisan support over the last decade for the same reason that the defense department budget, Big Pharma, and the privatizers of all ills get bipartisan support: lobbyists underwrite campaigns and expect something in return… and the something they all get in return is the mantra that the marketplace will sort these kinds of things out. We know how that’s been working!

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