Warren Asks if DeVos Counsel Violated Conflict of Interest Law

In a letter sent today to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, asked for information about the work of senior counsel Robert Eitel to determine if he broke conflict-of-interest laws.

Eitel, a former compliance officer at for-profit college operator Bridgepoint Education Inc. while serving at the department, has been the subject of multiple inquiries Warren has sent to DeVos. He has been recused from discussions of the gainful-employment rule at the department but not the borrower-defense rule, which lays out guidelines for students defrauded by their institution to seek discharge of federal student loan debt.

In the letter, Warren asked DeVos to clarify aspects of Eitel's involvement in decision making on both rules.

"I have repeatedly sought information from the department on the nature of Eitel's involvement with the borrower-defense regulation and the timeline of his involvement, but you have so far failed to provide me with this information," Warren wrote.

If Eitel provided written or verbal advice on the borrower-defense law while still employed at Bridgepoint and without a relevant waiver, he may have violated criminal conflict-of-interest statute, Warren wrote.

UPDATE: Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, called any suggestion that Eitel had violated the law "not just outrageous but also defamatory." Eitel took an unpaid leave of absence from Bridgepoint during his temporary 120-day appointment at the department this spring. After he was formally appointed, he resigned from his former employer, Hill said.

"Senator Warren knows that. And she should also know that there is absolutely nothing untoward about that process," she said.

Hill said Eitel met with the department's ethics officer before coming on board, when it was decided that he would recuse himself from working on any particular matter related to his former employer, including borrower-defense claims filed by Bridgepoint students under current regulations. Eitel also went further, recusing himself from all claims filed by students from any institution under the current rule, she said.

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For-profit back in business, but legal dispute continues

As reported in Inside Higher Ed, the Obama administration shut down the Myhre family-owned Globe University, but an affiliated university bought four of its Wisconsin campuses with the backing of the Trump administration and a state regulator with a tough reputation on for-profits.

Survey: Adults See College as Path to Better Career

A recently released survey from the University of Phoenix finds the majority of working adults view college as a way to improve their careers.

The online survey of more than 1,000 adults who are employed at least 20 hours a week found that 38 percent are very satisfied with their current employed position. Forty-three percent said they were very satisfied with how their skills and abilities were being utilized by their employers, and 46 percent said they were fairly compensated.

The survey also found that two in five adults are very satisfied with their current level of education and 65 percent of Americans anticipate their current salary would increase if they were to achieve a higher level of education.

"As economic conditions continue to improve and job opportunities multiply, it's no surprise that Americans are taking notice and thinking more about how they can make headway in their careers," said Peter Cohen, president of the University of Phoenix, in a news release. "The road to recovery from a rougher job market has been long and challenging, but workers are now in a position to seek out advancement or even new careers altogether by strengthening and adding to their skills through education."

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Charlotte School of Law missed deadline to remain open

The Charlotte School of Law missed two deadlines set by state regulators and has asked for an extension to stay open.

Indiana Backs Purdue-Kaplan Deal

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education on Thursday approved Purdue University's acquisition of Kaplan University, Purdue announced. The decision, which was widely expected, marks the first of three approvals Purdue needs for its boundary-testing deal, which would result in the creation of a new public online institution. The U.S. Department of Education and the Higher Learning Commission, which is the regional accreditor for both universities, also are reviewing the arrangement.

“The action taken by our commission today is the culmination of a thoughtful, deliberative process to meet the Legislature’s charge, and it reflects our strong support for new, innovative approaches that ensure Indiana is well positioned to meet the needs of more students,” Teresa Lubbers, Indiana commissioner for higher education, said in a written statement.

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Feds Agree to Loan Discharge for Some Students

A federal court judge Tuesday approved a settlement that could clear the federal student loan debt held by as many as 36,000 former students who attended a for-profit chain of cosmetology and secretarial programs in the 1980s and ’90s.

The New York Times reported that the last of the programs operated by Wilfred American Educational Corporation closed in 1994 following federal investigations into fraud, racketeering and embezzlement. Several leaders of the for-profit chain were convicted of fraud following those investigations, but students who took out federal loans to attend those programs between 1986 and 1994 have been paying down debt or have seen their wages garnished for decades.

The settlement comes as more than 65,000 borrower-defense claims -- filed mostly by former students of the now defunct Corinthian Colleges -- are pending review by the Department of Education.

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Harvard teams up with 2U for online certificate program

As reported in Inside Higher Ed, Harvard University announced Monday that three of its schools will create a new business analytics certificate program with 2U, the online program management company. The certificate program will teach students how to leverage data and analytics to drive business growth through a collaboration between 2U and professors at the Harvard Business School, the John A.

‘No Timetable’ for New Gainful-Employment Data

The Department of Education has yet to provide institutions this year with lists of graduates from gainful-employment programs -- a preliminary step for calculating debt-to-earnings ratios that measure whether career training programs saddle students with debt they can't repay.

The revelation, made by department officials last week in a written response to questions from Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, indicates that the department will be slow to release new gainful-employment data after delaying several provisions involving compliance by career education programs. The department released the first set of gainful-employment data in January of this year.

Durbin noted in questions to the department that career education programs received the lists of graduates, known as completers lists, by June 1, 2016. Programs have 45 days to submit corrections to those lists before debt-to-earnings rates are calculated.

"We don't have currently have any timetable to send completers lists to schools for 2017," officials said in a written response to Durbin last week.

The department is in the early stages of a negotiated rule-making process announced in June to overhaul the gainful-employment and borrower-defense regulations, which were crafted by the Obama administration but heavily opposed by the for-profit college sector and congressional Republicans. Last month, it also announced that it would delay certain disclosure requirements for gainful-employment programs and extend a deadline to file alternate earnings appeals.

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Senate Passes GI Bill Update

The Senate unanimously passed an ambitious update to the Post-9/11 GI Bill Wednesday, just over a week after the House of Representatives passed an identical version of the legislation. The bill will next head to President Trump's desk.

Among other provisions, the package would lift the current 15-year time limit for veterans to use GI Bill benefits for postsecondary education. It also would restore benefits used to earn credits at closed institutions such as those operated by Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech, which enrolled a large number of veterans as students.

The legislation also would expand access to student aid for members of the National Guard and reservists and would grant full eligibility for student aid to Purple Heart recipients, regardless of their length of service.

House leaders moved the bill swiftly through that chamber, introducing it, holding hearings and scheduling a vote in just over a week. It took about as long for the bill to move through the Senate. The legislation received broad support from a wide range of veterans' groups and education advocates.

"This was a truly bipartisan effort led by some amazing organizations and leaders within Congress, all committed to ensuring veterans and their families have the opportunity for a college education post-military service," said Jared Lyon, president and CEO of Student Veterans of America.

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For-Profit Law School May Have Aid Restored

The for-profit Charlotte School of Law was notified last month by the U.S. Department of Education that it is prepared to reinstate the institution's ability to award federal financial aid this fall, according to a news release from the for-profit.

"We are excited at the prospect of being able to help our students complete their legal education," said Paul Meggett, interim dean at the institution, in a statement. "In the meantime, CSL continues to work closely with the American Bar Association and the [University of North Carolina] Board of Governors to resolve all remaining compliance-related matters."

Charlotte has seemingly managed to survive being cut off from the Title IV student aid funds. Department officials made the decision in December to cut off the law school after the American Bar Association placed Charlotte on probation for failing to comply with standards. Charlotte worked to remain open by developing a teach-out arrangement with another institution operated by parent company InfiLaw and helping students find the money to remain enrolled at the law school.

Classes at Charlotte are expected to begin Aug. 28.

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