While the rules targeted for-profit colleges with billion-dollar budgets, they apply to all institutions — including small, nonprofit colleges like Claflin that have been educating low-income, minority and first-generation students for more than a century without scandal.
“It’s a regulation that should be focused on the bad actors, and we have been lumped in when we’re serving the students the bad actors are preying on,” Mr. Tisdale said. “We believe it should be improved to prevent unintended consequences.”
Ms. DeVos’s plans to overhaul the Obama-era rules for student borrowers reached a crucial stage this week, as a committee convened to renegotiate the regulations began debating the burden of proof students would have to meet to win claims against institutions.
The Education Department has proposed that students establish “clear and convincing evidence” that institutions misled them, compared with a “preponderance of evidence” standard applied under the Obama administration. Students would also have to prove that institutions had an “intent to deceive,” “knowledge of falsity” and “reckless disregard” that resulted in financial harm to borrowers.
Officials in the department said during negotiations this week that they believed the current preponderance-of-evidence standard did not sufficiently protect taxpayers and institutions.
But Joseline Garcia, a negotiator on the panel and the president of the United States Student Association, said she believed the new standard swung too far in the opposite direction.
“I think that switching to ‘clear and convincing’ does the opposite for students,” Ms. Garcia said. “It doesn’t protect them at all.”
She added: “Although the institution may have made an honest mistake, the harm is still the same for the student. And people’s lives are greatly impacted by that harm.”
Ms. DeVos has cast the Obama-era regulations as…