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In a semiannual report to Congress, the Education Department's inspector general took issue with the agency's proposal to eliminate the gainful-employment rule without other accountability standards in place.

Inspector General Kathleen Tighe, who retired from the department as of Nov. 30, also warned House and Senate education committee leaders earlier this year against eliminating the rule in an overhaul of the Higher Education Act.

In the new report, which covered work by the inspector general from April through September of this year, Tighe said the for-profit college sector "continues to be a high-risk area for the department."

"OIG resources devoted to postsecondary school investigations continue to be disproportionately devoted to fraud and abuse in the proprietary sector," she wrote. "The sector also represents a disproportionate share of student loan defaults."

The report also found that the Education Department has failed to meet targets to reduce improper payments through the Pell Grant program and that the department has not shown that it only recognizes accreditors that meet federal standards.