The Trump administration announced Thursday that it had picked a former official at for-profit DeVry University to head an Education Department unit that polices colleges for student aid fraud.
Last year, DeVry paid $100 million to settle federal claims it misled students.
Julian Schmoke Jr., who was an associate dean at DeVry from 2008 to 2012, will lead federal student aid enforcement activities, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said.
"In addition to a track record of successfully advocating for students for more than 20 years, he brings experience in higher education leadership, instruction and accreditation, including serving in an academic capacity at DeVry University, where he ensured the delivery of a quality education to students," the Education Department said in a news release.
"Dr. Schmoke will lead a team focused on identifying, investigating and adjudicating statutory and regulatory violations of the federal student aid programs and on resolving borrower defense claims," the release said.
The move drew criticism given DeVry's troubles and the Trump administration's efforts to reverse an Obama administration crackdown on for-profit colleges.
"This is like the fox guarding the hen house," Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said on Twitter.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who joined Durbin and two other senators on Aug. 7 in urging DeVos to pick an enforcement chief who had expertise in enforcement, blasted the hiring.
"Students deserve an experienced, qualified investigator looking out for their best interests – not a for-profit college shill with no consumer protection experience," Brown said.
A senior Education Department official, who requested anonymity to discuss the hiring, said Schmoke served in solely an academic capacity at DeVry and had no knowledge of or involvement in the school's federal settlement.
President Trump ran a for-profit school, the now-defunct Trump University, and paid $25 million to settle a class-action suit that alleged fraud at the operation. And DeVos is an advocate of for-profit schools; her government ethics forms showed she has investments in companies connected to the industry, according to the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.
In June, DeVos suspended new rules set to go into effect on July 1 that had been designed to make it easier to forgive loans for students left stranded by the collapse of for-profit chains such as Corinthian Colleges Inc. and ITT Technical Institute and to try to prevent future abuses.
DeVos is rewriting those rules, a move that drew complaints from student advocates and Democrats.
DeVos said Thursday that she was focused on a "stronger approach" to enforcing compliance by colleges with federal student aid rules and to protecting students, parents and borrowers against "bad actors."
"Protecting students has always been my top priority," she said in a written statement.
Schmoke was among five new hires announced Thursday. They will work under A. Wayne Johnson, the new chief operating officer of the department's Federal Student Aid office.
Schmoke will head a unit created by the Obama administration in part because of problems involving for-profit colleges.
In December, DeVry and its parent company, DeVry Education Group Inc., agreed to pay $100 million to settle a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit alleging that the school had misled potential students with ads about its post-graduation success rates.
DeVry Education Group, which is one of the nation's for-profit college chains, renamed itself Adtalem Global Education this spring.
Since mid-2012, Schmoke has been executive director of campus operations for West Georgia Technical College, a public school that is part of the Technical College System of Georgia, according to his profile on LinkedIn.
Schmoke, who has degrees from Dartmouth College, the Georgia Institute of Technology and Mercer University, began at DeVry in 2007 as a department chair teaching electronics and math courses, his profile said.
In October 2008, he became associate dean for DeVry's College of Engineering and Information Sciences, leading a staff of more than 40 full-time and adjunct faculty. He left in April 2012. He also was a visiting professor for DeVry's online degree program during that time.
On Aug. 9, Durbin, Brown and Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wrote to DeVos and Johnson urging them to "take immediate action to name a credible, well-qualified, independent and permanent" enforcement chief.
"This individual must be well-qualified to serve in this critical role, and they must be politically independent and insulated from the rest of the department's leadership," the senators wrote.
"They must also have relevant experience in consumer protection or litigation, managing attorneys, and conducting investigations with the highest ethical standards," the senators said.
The Obama administration had named FTC veteran Robert Kaye as the first head of the unit. He had been chief litigation counsel for the FTC's Consumer Protection Bureau and manager of the bureau's enforcement division. Kaye left the job in March.
12:05 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Sen. Sherrod Brown and a senior Education Department official.