WASHINGTON – August 23, 2018 –
The individual plaintiffs, NEA and CTA are represented by the National Student Legal Defense Network
, a nonprofit organization that advocates for student rights through litigation. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, challenges the Education Department’s delay of requirements for online universities of their legal obligation to notify students that the programs in which they’re enrolled or plan to enroll in may fail to meet state licensing standards or may face adverse actions from the state or accreditor.
As enrollment in online courses and degree programs has grown exponentially over the last decade, the Department of Education, under DeVos’ mandate, took the shocking step of rescinding protections for students pursuing online degrees – protections students need now more than ever.
One of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs is aspiring educator Stephanie Portilla, whose dream is to be an elementary teacher one day. Earlier this year, Portilla enrolled full-time to pursue her bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Western Governors University, an online-only university that claims it has students living in all 50 states, U.S. territories and U.S. military bases abroad.
Portilla researched and confirmed through the state of California teacher certification website that her program would meet state standards for teacher certification. However, because of the Department of Education has illegally delayed rules, there is no guarantee or legal obligation for the online university to notify her if the program ceases to meet the standards. Portilla could end up with a degree that gets her no closer to her dream of being a teacher in California
“Betsy DeVos’ latest move that removes students’ protections from predatory online universities is a direct attack on our students and their future. The common-sense disclosures help prospective and enrolled students evaluate the legitimacy of online programs and the institution that offers them. Without them, students like Stephanie Portilla could end up saddled with debt and stuck with a worthless degree they can’t use,” said CTA President Eric Heins
In December 2016, the Department of Education issued the state authorization rule to protect students who were studying in online, distance or correspondence programs. The rules were scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2018. The rules provided important protections including common sense disclosures to help prospective and enrolled students evaluate the legitimacy of both the online program and the institution that offers it, preventing students from wasting time and money on programs that will not help them further their careers. The disclosures included information about whether the program met the licensing requirements in the student’s state and whether the school was under investigation by the state or accreditor for its online programs.
“Desperately needed as it may be, no law can force Secretary DeVos to care about protecting students. But the law does require a specific process to delay a rule, and Secretary DeVos tried to take an illegal shortcut instead,” said NSLDN President Aaron Ament
Instead of letting these protections go into place, DeVos delayed for months and then illegally rescinded them. The Education Department is required to conduct what’s called “negotiated rulemaking” before it proposes a rule. The Department of Education had plenty of time to do negotiated rulemaking since it signaled its interest in examining the state authorization rule in January 2017. Industry also raised issues for clarification about the rule to the Department of Education throughout 2017 while the Department was conducting intensive outreach on deregulatory actions.
The Department of Education waited until the very last minute and then issued a proposal with only 15 days for the public to comment – then it missed its own deadline and failed to delay the rule by July 1, 2018. The Education Department’s delay did not publish in the Federal Register
until July 3, 2018.
“The Department of Education’s reasons for delay are flimsy and do not satisfy the high bar it must meet to waive its legal obligation to conduct negotiated rulemaking,” added Ament.
Staci Maiers, NEA Communications
202-270-5333 cell, firstname.lastname@example.org
Martha Upton Fulford, NSLDN Communications