The U.S. Department of Education is creating a Student Aid Enforcement Unit to respond to allegations of illegal actions by higher education institutions. The announcement closely follows the Department's and Federal Trade Commission's actions against DeVry University concerning the institution's alleged misrepresentation of employment rates and earnings of its graduates in advertisements and other communications.

The Enforcement Unit will consist of four divisions:

  • Investigations Group, responsible for identifying potential misconduct or high-risk activity among institutions.
  • Borrower Defense Group, responsible for providing legal analysis, support, and advice concerning claims of Direct Loan borrowers. This will include conducting investigations of institutions in connection with borrower claims of defenses to repayment of Direct Loans and coordinating with federal and state agencies regarding such claims. (Direct Loans are loans made by the Department.) Borrower defense claims might include allegations that an institution had engaged in deceptive marketing or high-risk activities to induce the borrower to obtain a Direct Loan to enroll.
  • Administrative Actions and Appeals Service Group, responsible for imposing  administrative actions, such as emergency, termination, limitation, suspension, or fine actions. The group will resolve appeals by program participants from final audit and final program review determinations, initiate debarment and suspension actions, and issue school revocation and denials of recertification.
  • Clery Group, responsible for ensuring compliance by institutions with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act). The Clery Act requires institutions participating in federal financial aid programs to disclose campus crime statistics and security information.

The new unit is tasked with working with state and federal agencies to build cases against institutions and with the Department's Program Compliance Unit regarding evidence that may impact ongoing program compliance reviews. Its authority will include authority to issue subpoenas, document demands, and interrogatories, and to require interviews. 

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has targeted deceptive marketing by higher education institutions. It brought actions against Corinthian Colleges and ITT Educational Services alleging that those institutions violated the Dodd-Frank Act prohibition of unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices by misrepresenting job placement outcomes and earnings for graduates to induce students to obtain loans from the colleges to pay their tuition and fees.

Ballard Spahr's Higher Education Group regularly advises educational institutions on compliance with the Higher Education Act, the Clery Act, and other applicable laws. Ballard Spahr’s White Collar Defense/Internal Investigations Group regularly counsels and represents individuals, companies, and organizations facing actual or threatened government enforcement, including grand juries; conducts internal investigations; and designs preventive compliance programs. The firm's Consumer Financial Services Group is nationally recognized for its experience with the full range of federal and state consumer credit laws, its skill in litigation defense and avoidance, and its guidance in structuring and documenting new consumer financial services products.

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