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California v. U.S. Department of Education

The State of California and Student Defense brought a challenge in federal court targeting the Trump Administration’s illegal distance learning regulations. The lawsuit seeks to overturn two key provisions of the Department of Education regulations, which weakened crucial student protections while removing accountability for low-quality online programs.

“These regulations, rolled out in the final months of the Trump administration, are a giveaway to online for-profit colleges that care more about collecting tuition than delivering a quality education,” said Student Defense Senior Counsel Alex Elson. “It is truly reckless to reduce government oversight of online education when the COVID-19 pandemic is driving unprecedented growth in distance learning. True to form, then-Secretary DeVos pushed these rules through the process while ignoring the Department’s legal obligations, and with this lawsuit we are going to restore important student protections in this growing sector.”

The lawsuit asks the court to vacate the Trump administration regulations and restore the previous protections.

The lawsuit alleges two key legal flaws with the September 2020 regulation:

  • The new regulation provides schools automatic renewal in federal aid programs if their applications are pending for more than 12 months. This is explicitly not allowed under the Higher Education Act, and puts students at risk by allowing schools under investigation to get automatic approval to draw student aid funds before the Department has determined whether the institutions are capable of participating in student aid programs.

  • Schools are now permitted to fully outsource their education program to other institutions under common ownership or control. A student can now enroll in and receive a degree from an institution that provided none of the education for which the degree was conferred.

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