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Education Department will use ‘secret shoppers’ to monitor colleges

Education Department will use ‘secret shoppers’ to monitor colleges

Higher Ed Dive

Jeremy Bauer-Wolf
March 14, 2023
Dive Brief:
  • The U.S. Department of Education said Tuesday it will use secret shoppers to monitor whether colleges are misrepresenting themselves in areas like graduation rates and job placements.
  • Shoppers will be one tool to “evaluate recruitment, enrollment, financial aid, and other practices of postsecondary institutions to help identify potentially deceptive or predatory practices used to recruit and enroll students,” the Education Department said in a statement.
  • The agency said it may rely on secret shoppers’ findings as evidence in ongoing investigations into colleges or use them to initiate such reviews.
Dive Insight:
The Biden Education Department has attempted to dial up oversight of poorly performing institutions.
Earlier this year, the agency said it would craft a public list of “low financial value” programs, which pundits took as a strategy to shame institutions. And just this month, the agency issued guidance on how it intends to hold leaders of private colleges personally liable should their institutions “fail to operate in a financially responsible way” and cost the federal government money.
Further, the Education Department restarted the enforcement wing of the Office of Federal Student Aid, or FSA, in 2021. Officials said Tuesday this investment “has already paid dividends,” as the office has begun fraud investigations into multiple institutions, and fined and removed others from participating in the federal student aid program.
Many of the Biden administration’s accountability efforts have targeted for-profit colleges, which the Education Department argues have track records of defrauding students. The for-profit sector has rebutted that the department should be fair and more closely watch all types of institutions.
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