Editorials of The Times

Posted May 27, 2018 9:17 p.m. EDT

Predatory Colleges, Freed to Fleece Students

Try as they might, the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress cannot disguise that they continue to do the bidding of the for-profit college industry, which has saddled working-class students with crushing debt while providing useless degrees, or no degrees at all.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos claimed ignorance when she was asked during a congressional hearing on Tuesday how many of the college students who told her department that they had been ripped off were complaining about for-profit schools. The widely publicized answer is more than 98 percent.

For-profit college fraud dates back to the inception of the GI Bill during World War II. A congressional investigation during the 1950s found that schools had cropped up to fleece veterans. Since then, Congress has intermittently tightened regulations, only to loosen them under industry pressure, leading to a cycle of exploitation.

The problem became so pervasive that 37 state attorneys general joined forces to combat it. Attorneys general are not only suing abusive for-profit schools, they are suing the U.S. government.

The federal government was shamefully late to this effort but finally found its footing after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau opened its doors in 2011. In 2014, the bureau sued Corinthian Colleges, which soon collapsed amid charges that it had lured poor and working-class students by lying to them about job-placement rates — then saddled them with predatory loans.

Congress was forced to confront the problem last year when it passed the Forever GI Bill, which restored veterans benefits to thousands of men and women who had found themselves shut out of school when for-profit programs charged with fraud closed their doors.

DeVos seems to have learned nothing from this history. Indeed, as The Times reported earlier this month, the Education Department has undermined investigations of the industry by marginalizing or reassigning lawyers and investigators who had been assigned to this matter during the Obama years. Major investigations had been abandoned, including those of the DeVry Education Group (now known as Adtalem Global Education), Bridgepoint Education and Career Education Corp.

The House would further weaken fraud protection in a bill to overhaul the Higher Education Act. That effort would do away with rules that deny federal aid to career education programs that have historically burdened students with loans far beyond their capacity to pay. It would make short-term or untested programs eligible for federal aid for which they do not now qualify. The bill would also blur the distinction between for-profit and other colleges, allowing for-profit career training programs to escape regulatory scrutiny that is now required under federal statute and regulation.

This romance with financial predators will be hard to defend for Republicans facing re-election. It should be.

The Pope Opens His Eyes to Abuse

The abuse of minors by pedophile priests has been among the most painful sagas of our time, the horror compounded by the knowledge that hierarchs could have stopped the predators if only they had not chosen for so long to cover up their actions. Now, at long last, Pope Francis seems to have glimpsed the depth of the global crisis.

The catalyst was a scandal in Chile, one of Latin America’s most staunchly Catholic countries, where for years the church establishment failed to act on multiple complaints of sexual abuse against an influential priest, Fernando Karadima. On a trip to Chile in January, the pope condemned Karadima’s actions but then refused to meet with his victims and dismissed allegations of inaction by bishops as “slander.”

In the outrage that followed, the pope appointed two investigators who produced a damning report confirming systematic efforts by the Chilean Catholic hierarchy to conceal clerical sexual abuse. That led to an apology by Francis for the “grave errors” in Chile and an emergency meeting earlier this month with Chile’s bishops at which all 34 submitted their resignations and asked forgiveness for the “pain they caused the victims, the pope, the people of God and our country.”

Before the meeting with the bishops, the pope held an extraordinary, weeklong visit with Juan Carlos Cruz, a victim of sexual abuse by Karadima who had clashed with the pontiff in Chile. In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El País, Cruz described emotional exchanges during which the pontiff issued a deep personal apology. Cruz said he also discussed his homosexuality with the pope, who responded by saying that Cruz is as God wants him to be — “the pope wants you this way, too, and you have to be happy with who you are,” Cruz recounted.

Cruz, who said he remains a devout Catholic, said the meeting left him hopeful that the pope was prepared to confront the issue of abuse seriously. “He is taking unprecedented steps; he knows that the whole world is watching,” he said.

Watching, but not waiting. On Tuesday, the Catholic archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, was found guilty in an Australian court of concealing child sex abuse by a priest in the 1970s. He faces up to two years in prison. Cardinal George Pell, also an Australian who had been handling Vatican finances, was ordered on May 1 to stand trial on charges of “historical sexual offenses.” In the most prominent case in the United States, Cardinal Bernard Law was compelled to resign as archbishop of Boston in 2002 after The Boston Globe exposed his role in covering up pedophile priests. He died in Rome in December. Scores of victims have filed lawsuits alleging abuse by priests on Guam. No doubt there is more to come.

It is not yet clear how Francis will handle the mass resignations by the Chilean bishops, as accepting them all would leave the church there leaderless. More important is what he will do to repair the profound damage done to the Catholic Church worldwide by pedophile priests and their enablers. The pope has made a good and welcome start in acknowledging that his bishops did not tell him the truth and in opening his ears and heart to victims who have suffered not only sexual abuse, but also the derision of churchmen they tried to talk to. But it is just a start.

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