May the Department of Education lawfully undo protections for vocational students without complying with the rulemaking requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act?
Based on extensive evidence that many career training programs at for-profit post-secondary schools fail to prepare students for jobs that would allow them to repay their federal student debt, in many cases leaving students worse off than if they had not pursued the training, the Department of Education in 2014 adopted the Gainful Employment Rule. The rule imposed new accountability and disclosure requirements for career training programs as a condition of receiving federal student aid funding. Under Secretary DeVos, the Department has suspended key aspects of the disclosure and accountability requirements, effectively undermining the rule, while it initiates new rulemaking to undo it officially. The Attorneys General of 17 states and the District of Columbia sued to enforce the rule, arguing that the Department of Education’s refusal to implement and enforce the rule constituted a final agency action that did not comport with the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires the agency to justify its actions and submit them to a notice and comment period. Public Good, along with fifteen other organizations that advocate for students and college access, civil rights, students, consumers, and veterans, joined a brief by Public Citizen Litigation Group supporting the states. The brief reviewed the evidence of disabling debt, with consequent high rates of bankruptcy, incurred by students in low quality programs that serve principally to enrich the providers without boosting students’ employment prospects. The brief also explained that the Department cannot lawfully abandon the fruits of its previous extensive factfinding that support the necessity for the rule to protect students.
District Court for the District of Columbia No. 17 – 02139 (complaint filed Oct. 17, 2017)