Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin today joined a coalition of 16 attorneys general that submitted comments to the Department of Education opposing Secretary Betsy DeVos' proposal to delay and replace a federal regulation, the Program Integrity and Improvement Rule, which provides consumer protections for students enrolled in online college programs. The Rule would increase the transparency and accountability of online programs offered in multiple states and would bolster state regulators' ability to protect students enrolled in such programs.
"There has been a proliferation of online college programs being offered to students in recent years, and many opt for this format as a way of keeping costs down and advancing their career training. With such an investment at stake, it is therefore imperative to have safeguards in place that protect these students from any financial irregularities or licensing scams that may arise from programs that are poorly run or downright misleading," said Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin. "Many students are already struggling with tuition costs and they should not have to pay for unnecessary expenses or courses that don't lead to the professional licensing and training that they need."
In addition to Attorney General Kilmartin, the comment letter was signed by the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
The Rule, which was slated to go into effect on July 1, would strengthen states' ability to protect online students by requiring schools that offer online programs in multiple states to obtain authorization to operate in each state where programs are offered, to the extent authorization is required under state law. The Rule would also provide crucial disclosures to online students, including a disclosure alerting students if a school determines that a program does not satisfy requirements for obtaining professional licensure in the students' state. The Rule would also require schools to disclose refund policies and to alert students of adverse actions against the school by accreditors or state agencies. The delay of the Rule will deprive students of information that would help them choose appropriate programs and exercise their rights under state law.
The coalition's comments to the Department explain that state oversight is especially important for one sector of the online education industry – for-profit schools. Investigations by state attorneys general have revealed widespread misconduct by for-profit schools.
The long list of actions against for-profit schools demonstrates that state oversight is critical to protect students. In addition, the Department's continuing efforts to dismantle existing protections for students, such as the Department's actions to delay and replace the Gainful Employment Rule and the Borrower Defense to Repayment Rule, have left students more vulnerable to schools' misconduct and have made state oversight even more important.
Finally, the coalition's comments explain that the Department has failed to provide any justification for such a delay and replacement of the Rule. The Department has not cited any new facts or changed circumstances to justify a delay or reconsideration. Nothing in the Department's proposal justifies delaying implementation of the Rule or opening the door to a full-blown reconsideration of the Rule.