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Breaking News: Obama Administration Urges Court to Throw Out Career College Association’s Lawsuit

Published:  March 23, 2011

The Obama administration has filed a motion with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, urging the court to throw out a lawsuit that the group formerly known as the Career College Association has brought against the Department of Education over consumer protection regulations the agency finalized in November.

As we’ve previously reported, the for-profit college lobbyists’ lawsuit seeks to block the Education Department from putting into effect in July several rules that aim to prevent unscrupulous schools from taking advantage of financially needy students. These regulations would eliminate the “safe harbors” that Bush administration officials put in place in 2002 to help for-profit schools skirt a long-standing federal law that prohibits colleges from compensating recruiters based on their success in enrolling students; strengthen the role that states play in preventing fraud, waste, and abuse in the federal student aid programs; and bolster the ability of the Department to prevent colleges from providing misleading information to prospective students and others about their programs.

The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, as the group is now called, argued in its complaint that these regulations are illegal and will be extremely damaging to its member institutions. “The challenged regulations are beyond the Department’s authority and seek to impose on APSCU’s members and other schools, including public and non-profit schools, restrictions that are unlawful and arbitrary and capricious,” the lawsuit states. “APSCU has filed this lawsuit to prevent these unlawful regulations from harming students and the schools that serve them.”

In its response, which was filed with the court on Friday, the administration rejects these claims, arguing that the Department has acted well within the authority granted to it by the Higher Education Act (HEA). “The challenged incentive compensation, misrepresentation, and state authorization regulations are all permissible under the plain language of the HEA,” the government’s response states. “Plaintiff’s crabbed reading of that broad language is neither persuasive nor required.”

The administration also challenges the lawsuit’s assumptions about the alleged harm that these rules will cause. “Plaintiff’s claims amount to abject speculation about Draconian enforcement of the regulations by the Department -- speculation belied by the language of the regulations themselves, statements in the preamble to the regulations, and subsequent regulatory guidance issued by the Department regarding how it interprets and intends to enforce the regulations,” the government argues.

“In the event that any of plaintiff’s unsubstantiated predictions of enforcement run amok actually materialize, plaintiff is free to raise its claims at that time,” the response says. “But it would be inappropriate for the Court to issue what would amount to an advisory opinion on these issues now.”

At Higher Ed Watch, we have argued that the career college lobbyists’ lawsuit is rife with misleading statements and out-right errors. The administration’s response supports our findings. We will elaborate more on this shortly.

In the meantime, click here to read the government’s brief, here to read a copy of the career college group’s original complaint, and here and here for our previous coverage of the lawsuit.

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