“Why would anyone deliberately hurt students who have been screwed over by scam schools?”

That’s what U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, asked after U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos advanced proposed rules that would rescind an Obama-era regulation that was meant to protect students who had been defrauded by for-profit colleges.

Yes, on Wednesday, the U.S. Education Department followed up on its action in 2017, when it suspended two key rules from the Obama administration that were intended to protect students from predatory for-profit colleges. And the agency had promised to write its own regulations, which emerged this week.

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The proposed rules require students to prove that schools knowingly deceived them if they want to qualify to have federal loans canceled. And the agency dropped a provision that allowed similar claims to be processed as a group. Instead, students will have to prove their claims individually.

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Why would anyone want to make it harder for defrauded students? Well, the Education Department says that college students are “adults who can be reasonably expected to make informed decisions and who must take personal accountability for the decisions they make.” Supporters of the proposed changes say it is too easy for students to apply for loan forgiveness and that too much public money will have to be used to repay bad loans.

To be sure, college students are indeed adults who can be reasonably expected to make informed decisions. And adults should indeed take personal accountability for the decisions they made.

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But the proposed regulation says, among other things, that to qualify for loan forgiveness, students who claim they have been defrauded have to prove the college intended to defraud them and show that the college had exhibited a “reckless disregard” for the truth.

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That is not, for example, the standard for state lemon laws, which offer compensatory remedies to consumers who buy cars and other goods that prove to be defective. They don’t insist that the consumers prove that a car dealer or manufacturer intended to commit fraud by making and selling a flawed product.

Let’s say DeVos, a billionaire from Michigan, decided to buy a new yacht and it turned out to have a bum engine that broke down repeatedly. Would she have to prove the seller intended to defraud her to seek replacement or some kind of compensation?

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Consumer products are not college education, for sure, but the Trump administration believes in operating schools as if they were businesses, so the comparison seems apt.

That’s why Murphy was one of many to release a statement questioning the Education Department’s move. He said:

“I don’t get it. Why would anyone deliberately hurt students who have been screwed over by scam schools? This is exactly why I was so worried about having the Department of Education run by a billionaire investor in for-profit schools.”

Education Department officials would probably say they aren’t trying to deliberately hurt students. Their critics would say they simply don’t care about them at all, a distinction without much of a difference.

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