U.S. Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) today introduced the "Students First Act" to strengthen the Department of Education's oversight of institutions of higher education that are taking advantage of students and taxpayers. The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-WV).
"Plain and simple, students and taxpayers expect federal dollars to be spent at colleges and universities that provide a quality education. Unfortunately, there are too many institutions that put other priorities over students' academic success. This important legislation will help focus the Department of Education's efforts to effectively detect and stop the patterns of waste, fraud and abuse that leave students with mountains of debt and without degrees," said Harkin.
"Every hard-working student in our country deserves a fair chance at higher education. As the cost of college continues to rise, we must ensure that students receive a quality education for their investment," Lautenberg said. "The Students First Act will stop the smoke and mirrors games being played by bad actors in higher education, and empower the Department of Education to protect students and taxpayers."
The legislation targets colleges and universities that are taking advantage of low- and middle-income students who rely upon federal student aid to help make college affordable. These bad actors are aggressively marketing to vulnerable students in potentially illegal ways while often providing little or no meaningful education, misusing taxpayer dollars, and sticking students with the bill. A rising number of students at these institutions are being forced to drop out and default on their federal student loans.
The "Students First Act" would strengthen the Department of Education's oversight of institutions of higher education that are taking advantage of students and taxpayers. The bill enhances the program review process, creating triggers that require the Department to conduct program reviews of institutions most at risk of violating federal law. It also strengthens existing sanctions against colleges that violate requirements of federal student aid programs knowingly and willfully, and holds executives of those institutions personally accountable. A complete summary of the bill can be found here.
The legislation is endorsed by The Institute for College Access and Success, National Association for College Admissions Counseling, National Consumer Law Center, American Federation of Teachers, and U.S. PIRG.
In December 2012, Lautenberg and Harkin sent a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan calling for an investigation into the tactics used by for-profit colleges and universities to circumvent federal laws designed to protect students and taxpayers.