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New Jersey Attorney General On Investigating For-Profit Colleges


A number of for-profit colleges have been the target of investigations and prosecutions over the past few years. That's why the Department of Education created a special unit in 2016 to investigate claims against for-profit schools. But according to a New York Times investigation, that team has been scaled back. This halt several investigations that were underway, some of which are into institutions where people who were hired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos worked. The attorney general of New Jersey, Gurbir Grewal, recently wrote a letter to Secretary DeVos expressing his frustration with that department. He joins us now from Newark. Thanks very much for being with us.

GURBIR GREWAL: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Why were the schools being investigated?

GREWAL: Scott, this is an industry that is rife with fraud. They have a history of predatory practices, of defrauding students, false advertising. And the schools are continuing in this conduct, and we have victims in New Jersey that are being affected by this conduct. And so we want to further these investigations along. We'd love to do them with the Department of Education, but they're not being a good partner right now.

SIMON: Now, according to The New York Times, Julian Schmoke, former dean at DeVry Institute, is the new supervisor of these investigations. Do you believe that presents a conflict of interest or other problems? Or is this someone who must know what these colleges are about?

GREWAL: Well, Scott, I've been a prosecutor for really the majority of my professional career, and I've seen the history of fraudulent conduct by DeVry and other institutions. And when I see individuals from those very institutions now being charged with overseeing units and being in charge of investigators who are looking into those same institutions that a few years ago were involved in massive settlements, it causes me to be a little skeptical. Anytime I see foxes guarding the henhouse, I am extremely troubled.

SIMON: Have you had any word back from the Department of Education or Secretary DeVos?

GREWAL: Surprisingly, no, and I don't expect to hear anything. They've really gone dark. All our efforts to work with the department to make victims whole in the Corinthian College investigation, to get loans forgiven, they're just not answering our calls or our emails. And that's clearly coming from the top to the individuals who were supposed to be working with us to help victims in this state and across the country. And it's unfortunate.

SIMON: These schools would not have any people enrolling if they weren't fulfilling a need that traditional colleges haven't.

GREWAL: Yeah, Scott, I mean, clearly, I'm not saying all for-profit schools are bad and that they serve no role. But when you have a unit that was staffed up with 12 employees who have now just been gutted and that there's three people left to carry forward on these investigations, clearly those investigations need to move forward. And if the DOE wants to move forward with us, we'll partner with them. If they want to give us the files, we'll move forward on our own. If they don't want to give us the files, we'll start creating our own files and looking at these bad actors. I'm not concerned with those that are not engaging in fraudulent conduct.

SIMON: This isn't just a state issue, is it?

GREWAL: It's not just a one-state issue, Scott. It's a national issue. That's why the best response here and the best strategy would be for state attorneys general to partner with the Department of Education as we have in the past. That would be the ideal solution, but if we have to come together as a coalition to fill the void, we will.

SIMON: The attorney general of New Jersey, Gurbir Grewal, thanks very much for being with us.

GREWAL: Thanks so much, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.