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File photo of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Government should resume loan forgiveness for students defrauded by for-profit colleges, watchdog says

WASHINGTON — A government watchdog on Monday urged the Education Department to resume the process of forgiving student loans for tens of thousands Americans who were defrauded by for-profit colleges.

The Office of Inspector General, an independent body within the education agency, recommended in a report that the department restart “review, approval, and discharge process” for defrauded studs.

The group also recommended that the department establish timeframes for considering the claims and “develop controls to ensure timeframes are met.” The report also noted that the department has significantly shrunk the staff of its unit the processes these claims, from 19 contracted staff, on top of attorneys, in November 2016, to just six contracted staff in September 2017.

A spokeswoman for the department did not immediately return a request for comment.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has come under criticism for stalling the review of over 95,000 claims for loan cancellations. The agency has not approved a single claim during her time in office and DeVos’ critics charge that she is looking out for the interests of the for-profit industry, rather than colleges. DeVos says she needs time to put together new rules for how loans are forgiven that would be fair to students, but also prevent any potential abuse of the system.

The AP reported in October that the department is considering abandoning the Obama-era practice of full loan forgiveness in favor of partial relief.

The department has halted Obama-era revisions to the process of loan forgiveness that boosted protections for students, citing pending litigation. The agency is now in the process or rewriting those rules with input from educators and experts.

Senator Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate committee overseeing education, said the report confirms that DeVos “tried to shirk her responsibility to these students and shut down the borrower defense program, leaving them with nowhere to turn.”

“Secretary DeVos needs to stop listening to the for-profit executives she hired and start following the recommendations of the Department’s independent watchdog by providing much needed, and legally required, relief to students who were cheated out of their education and savings,” Murray said in a statement.