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Harkin, Merkley Introduce Legislation to Crack Down on Worthless and Predatory Degree Programs

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) released the following statement on legislation they introduced this week that would crack down on worthless degrees peddled by unscrupulous academic institutions, many of which arefor-profit colleges. The legislation would ensure that students are not lured into investing time and money in degrees that leave them saddled with debt but unable to get a job in the fields for which they thought they were training.

Because of a loophole in federal financial aid laws, schools that are institutionally accredited may offer individual programs that lack state or federal licensing or programmatic accreditation, even when those credentials are required in order for graduates to enter the occupation for which they were trained.  Students enter these programs believing that they are preparing for a job in that field, only to discover after graduating – often with heavy debt loads – that they are not qualified to work in that field or take an occupational exam. Some for-profit colleges in particular have exploited this loophole to lure students with access to federal financial aid into costly programs. 

“Senator Merkley’s bill takes all the right steps to stop for-profit and other colleges from making false promises to students,” Harkin said. “Passing this bill will ensure that a college can no longer charge thousands of dollars for a degree that does not prepare them to work in the field they were promised‎.”

“It’s hard enough to pay for college and find a good-paying job these days when your college is on your side,” said Merkley. “It’s shameful that some schools are purposefully deceiving students, including young men and women returning from military service, and peddling worthless degrees with empty promises of employment.  Our G.I. Bill dollars and other forms of federal financial aid should not be subsidizing predatory programs that often leave students worse off than they were before.”

The Protecting Students from Worthless Degrees Act would require programs offered by institutions to meet any state or federal licensure requirements and programmatic accreditation that is necessary for entering an occupation in order to receive taxpayer-funded tuition such as Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, G.I. Bill benefits, or Department of Defense Tuition Assistance funds, ensuring that students and taxpayers are not left footing the bill for predatory and valueless programs. Institutions that fail to meet this crucial consumer protection requirement would be ineligible to receive any public investments in higher education.

With college costs continuing to rise, it is more important than ever that both students and taxpayers receive a return on their investment. The Protecting Students from Worthless Degrees Act would help ensure that more students are receiving the quality education and meaningful career opportunities they were promised.