New law allowing students to sue over worth of their degree leaves UConn unconcerned

The U.S. Department of Education is proposing a policy that would require universities to be more open about the nature of their finances. (Flickr/DonkeyHotey)

A new proposal from the U.S. Department of Education would allow college students to sue their universities if they feel the value of their degree was misrepresented.

This follows a number of lawsuits against for-profit universities, such as the University of Phoenix and more recently ITT Tech, where schools have been accused of misleading students about the value of their degree. The federal Department of Education hopes to revise this with a broad change to its education policy that would add a borrower defense provision.

“The purpose of the borrower defense regulation is to protect student loan borrowers from misleading, deceitful, and predatory practices of and failures to fulfill contractual promises by, institutions participating in the Department’s student aid programs,” said the Department of Education’s website.

The proposed policy would require universities to be more open about the nature of their finances and to inform students if they are experiencing financial difficulties that may impact the quality of their degree.

It will also ensure disclosure of the accurate numbers of graduation rates and job placements, according to the Department of Education. The policies will take effect in November and can be maintained or altered by the education secretary appointed by the president.

UConn is not expected to be affected by the changes proposed.

“Since large public universities aren’t the institutions that prompted the changes, we anticipate no effect on UConn,” UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said.

Instead, for-profit schools like the now-defunct Corinthian College and Trump University, are more likely to be affected.

“I think that the law makes sense in the context of the schools that have allegedly committed fraud unto students especially now considering the growing popularity of online universities,” said Emily Steck, a fifth-semester political science and human rights major. “However, I find it disparaging that the law could potentially have damaging effects on historically black universities that have lower graduation rates because those universities are vital to those populations–populations that historically haven't had the same privileges.”

The Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, released a campaign through their youth branch, Generation Progress, late in July that is applying pressure to attornies general in all states to bring charges against these universities alleged corruptive schemes. The group cited an article in the Huffington Post referencing the $150 million received in federal aid by Trump University for students to take classes.  

Trump University has been in the spotlight for misrepresenting the value of degrees offered through their school, which catered to training in real estate. The programs cost upwards of $35,000 to “make money in real estate,” according to NPR, and is currently in litigation for fraud.

Trump University is not the largest example of this fraudulent activity. This past March, Corinthian College, which had been accused of fraud for multiple years by the Obama administration, filed for bankruptcy.

In charges brought by California Attorney General Kamala Harris, 91 campuses operating nationwide were shut down on a ruling that the “company’s advertising practices misled students and violated the law,” according to the LA Times. They were ordered in a San Francisco court to pay students back $820 million and $350 for illegal marketing of programming, according to USA Today.

These schools, however, do not have the same ranking or history that UConn has.

“[UConn has] also been recognized by Kiplinger’s and Money magazines as a great value, and the University works hard to provide financial aid to help minimize or avoid student loan debt,” Reitz said. “All of these factors mean a UConn degree is a high-quality asset both for our recent graduates and those who graduated years or even decades ago.”

The concern from opponents of this piece of legislation arise from the impact it will have on colleges, large and small, for “frivolous lawsuits” because of concern surrounding a broad definition of what misrepresentation is, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Historically Black Colleges (HBCU’s), such as Clark Atlanta University in Georgia and the Alabama Tuskegee University, express concern because of their lower graduation rates and smaller endowments, they may be more susceptible to actions taken against them for lawsuits filed under this new stipulation.

“I understand why UConn and larger research institutions would not feel threatened or affected as they have the backing to avoid the allegations these schools are facing,” Steck said. “However, as a part of a larger academic community we have to be concerned about the worth and integrity of a degree as well as the preservation of historically black schools that could be affected.”


Elizabeth Charash is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at elizabeth.charash@uconn.edu.