U.S. states sue Trump administration over for-profit college rule

WASHINGTON, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Eighteen U.S. states on Tuesday sued the Trump administration’s Education Department for refusing to enforce Obama-era requirements that for-profit and vocational schools show they adequately prepare students to work full-time in a recognized profession.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro led the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The Democratic attorneys general alleged the department is breaking federal law by refusing to enforce the rule, finalized last year by former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, as part of overhauling the $1.4 trillion student loan industry to make college more affordable.

Under the rule, schools also must tell prospective students how much debt they may need to attend, as well as graduates’ average earnings, to give a sense of their program’s costs.

Democrat-dominated U.S. states have worked this year to block efforts by President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to freeze or revise major higher-education reforms. This summer, the department put the rule on ice and suspended another one that sped up debt relief for students defrauded by defunct schools, such as Corinthian Colleges.

The same 18 state attorneys general, all Democrats, sued over the loan-relief rule in July and have frequently opposed DeVos since she was confirmed in February.

The attorneys general said in their filing the department should have sought public input into and provided justification for its decision to stop enforcing the employment rule.

The department must ensure student-loan programs “are not abused by for-profit and other educational institutions that rely on federal aid for the bulk of their revenue but fail to give their students adequate skills to obtain employment that will allow them to pay back their loan obligations,” the group wrote.

Trump, DeVos, and many Republicans want the government to “get out of the business of student lending” and loosen restrictions on private-sector companies that operate similarly to trade schools.

Strayer Education Inc and Capella Education Co are among the companies that operate for-profit schools.

Education Press Secretary Liz Hill said in a statement that Tuesday’s complaint was the “latest in a string of frivolous lawsuits filed by Democratic attorneys general who are only seeking to score quick political points.”

“While this administration, and Secretary DeVos in particular, continue work to replace this broken rule with one that actually protects students, these legal stunts do nothing more than divert time and resources away from that effort,” she said. (Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by David Gregorio)