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(TNS)—Here’s a good reason to think twice about taking out piles of student loans after watching a catchy TV ad for a for-profit college.

The U.S. Department of Education is on a path to make it far tougher to get federal college loans forgiven using the argument that the school cheated you out of a good education by misleading you about job prospects or engaging in fraud.

The new rule—now under a public comment period—would apply to students seeking loans after July 1, 2019.

Consumer watchdogs, of course, charge that bad actors are getting a pass here. It would be up to students to prove that the school knowingly made false statements. What’s most troubling is that we’re often talking about low-income students, minority students or military veterans who have taken out loans to attend for-profit schools as they seek to build a better life and get training for a good-paying job.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has said the proposal lays out clear rules schools must follow, while protecting students from fraud. The administration maintains that the current rules had been too broadly interpreted, leaving taxpayers on the hook and opening the door for frivolous claims.

Yet many borrowers could be burned here. We’re looking at yet another reminder of why it’s savvy to be skeptical when costly for-profit colleges aggressively recruit you and make breathless promises about grants and financing.

All graduates don’t get good jobs.
Some schools do go out of business unexpectedly; others provide misleading claims and don’t provide a degree that employers really value.

Two years ago, for example, ITT Tech shut its doors following sanctions by the U.S. Department of Education. The sudden shutdown meant that students were able to seek a discharge of federal student loans—but not private student loans—from the federal government. For-profit Corinthian College closed its campuses in 2015, leaving students unable to complete their programs.

Often consumers find the pitch surrounding some for-profit programs very appealing. They’re looking to get on the fast path to a new, more promising career. Yet many students borrow heavily—too heavily—to chase those dreams.

Robin Howarth, senior researcher for the Center for Responsible Lending, says there’s growing concern that students attending for-profit schools can end up owing a great deal of money but only have limited potential for obtaining a job with a substantial paycheck in return.

The consumer watchdog group released a report in June that indicated, for example, that students face very high tuition and fees at for-profit colleges in order to receive training for healthcare support jobs. Many students borrow most of the money, but the jobs they find don’t pay enough to cover their living expenses and all that debt.

“Students need to pay very close attention to what kind of earnings are achieved,” Howarth says.

It’s important to look beyond average salaries in the medical field and look at the kinds of jobs obtained by students who attended that program.

Many times, Howarth says, earnings for similar programs are less when the student has attended a for-profit school than if the student studied a similar program at a public or private nonprofit college.

Often, Howarth says students may be better off obtaining training at a community college at a far lower cost.

Edd Habegger