The Biden administration could soon crack down on companies that supported remote learning throughout Democrats’ coronavirus lockdowns, a move that would block hundreds of thousands of students from completing higher education online.
The Education Department last month quietly issued guidance that would hamstring “online program managers,” companies that contract with colleges and universities to provide remote lessons to students. The move is a concession to the left, which has long slammed online program managers as exploitative for-profit entities that draw students into online programs to milk them for tuition, and, in a statement on the rule change, Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal said the policy will “ensure students get value for their money.”
If finalized, the policy change could open the Biden administration to charges of hypocrisy given that universities leaned on online program managers throughout the coronavirus pandemic to support remote learning as Democrats and their teachers’ union allies pushed to keep schools closed. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), for example, has long raised “concerns about the impact of OPM partnerships on rising student debt loads,” but slammed the Trump administration’s push to reopen schools as “cruel, heartless, and incompetent.”
The Biden administration’s proposal would reclassify online program managers as “third-party providers,” a move that would allow the federal government to micromanage and shutter the companies at will. The Education Department’s proposed rule would also make online program managers liable for partnering universities’ actions. Taken together, online program managers say these rule changes would make it impossible to conduct business.
Advocates insist the Biden administration’s proposal will help students, who they claim are being ripped off by for-profit educational entities. But online program managers often partner with some of the nation’s most affordable schools. Ozarks Technical Community College, for example, which boasts in-state tuition of just $5,215 per year, uses online program managers to administer its virtual programs.
And President Joe Biden pledged on the campaign trail that he would make community college free for all Americans. After taking office, he tapped his wife, Jill, to spearhead his administration’s effort to provide universal, free community college. But the first lady, a community college educator who insists on being called “doctor,” announced in February 2022 that the effort had failed.
Republicans appear to be gearing up to oppose the measure. House Education and the Workforce Committee chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R., N.C.) last month warned the Biden administration that its attempt to “blanket compliance policies” on educational contractors was “never going to work.”
“It is reckless for the Department to suggest providing access to online education is a main driver of federal student loan debt,” Foxx said. “Instead, innovations in postsecondary education, including online education, have broken through access barriers for many adult learners.”
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