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Testimony Before Federal Government Committee Considering Changes to Student Loan Rules

The Betsy DeVos Department of Education and the Scott Walker administration are moving to make the student loan debt system problems worse, not better.

Good morning. My name is Analiese Eicher and I am the Program Director at One Wisconsin Now in Madison, Wisconsin.

Since Secretary DeVos took office she has made every effort to reverse course on higher education rules meant to protect students and borrowers. Rules respecting state sovereignty and oversight of distance education have been delayed, student loan forgiveness for students defrauded by their institutions have been ignored and weakened, and the gainful employment rules protecting students who graduate from certain programs have been gutted.

The DeVos Department of Education has indicated that it intends to weaken additional rules that are vital to the prosperity of students, their families, and getting the most out of our tax dollars. DeVos wants to charge students more while providing less by inflating the value of college courses. DeVos wants to weaken protections and requirements for students who are attending college online by removing a requirement that professors engage and interact with their students on a regular basis. DeVos wants to weaken accreditation standards across institutes of higher education. Finally, DeVos wants to limit the oversight role and function of states in higher education.

Higher education and job training are a necessity in our changing economy. Yet the actions of the DeVos education department to repeal and modify regulations jeopardize higher education, our economy, and our people.

We need to strengthen, not weaken, federal and state oversight of our higher education system. Fewer protections for students and spending tax dollars on irresponsible institutions has historically shown to serve students and taxpayers poorly.

Rolling back state oversight removes states’ ability to oversee programs and protect their citizens. The Department should allow states to do their job to protect their constituents and regulate entities within their borders by keeping this established rule.

Online college education is growing and is meant to provide a flexible learning experiences for those who want or need it while not sacrificing the quality of the education they are receiving. By lessening the requirement for online programs to provide “regular and substantive interaction,” the DeVos Department of Education will take online higher education back to a time when institutions ignored student needs, and outsourced instruction to call centers and non-experts.

Accreditation is and should be the stamp of approval and key indicator that guarantees quality for students and borrowers. Already weak accreditation laws allow schools to operate and leave students with worthless or no degrees, and student loans. And we know that these “schools” tend to target and prey on people of color, military veterans and their families, and low income individuals.

States play an important part in the oversight of higher education institutions and affiliation organizations and actors that operate within their borders. They need strong encouragement from the federal government, not regulatory rollbacks that would allow them to not do their jobs.

We’ve already seen the dangers of that here in Wisconsin. As part of his 2017 budget, Gov. Walker succeeded in eliminating the Education Approval Board. The EAB was created in 1944 to oversee institutions like for profit colleges and to protect consumers. The functions of this formerly independent agency were transferred to the Department of Safety and Professional Services and experienced staff, including the executive director position, were either eliminated or not retained and were instead replaced by staff with no experience with the industry.

Eliminating and lessening state oversight can and will have a drastic and negative impact on borrowers, their families, and taxpayers. The actions by DeVos and Walker put Wisconsin students and Wisconsin student loan borrowers at a unique disadvantage compared to their peers across the country.

Students and borrowers are not asking for much. They are asking to be treated fairly in a system that does not treat them fairly. Unfortunately the DeVos Department of Education and the Walker administration are moving to make the problems worse, not better.

Thank you.

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Analiese Eicher is the program director at One Wisconsin Now & the Institute. She previously served on the Dane County board, and is a former lobbyist for the United Council of UW Students.