David Dies

David Dies, who had served as director of the now-defunct Wisconsin Educational Approval Board, now works for the state Department of Children and Families. Dies said he was not invited to interview with the Department of Safety and Professional Services after it absorbed the functions of the old board.

A state professional-licensing agency has taken on the work previously done by the state’s for-profit college watchdog, the Educational Approval Board, after it was eliminated in the state budget.

But the transition has occurred without the board’s former director, David Dies. Dies said he wasn’t invited to interview with the department after he and other former employees of the board, or EAB, got layoff notices in September.

The Department of Safety and Professional Services, or DSPS, says it hired two of the former EAB employees and started them in October.

A department spokeswoman, Nicole Anspach, said in a statement that “all responsibilities and oversight previously charged to the Educational Approval Board transferred to the department” shortly after Gov. Scott Walker signed the 2017-19 state budget in September.

Dies, who now works for the state Department of Children and Families, said there’s concern the new arrangement won’t have the same visibility as the old seven-member board. It oversaw more than 200 private post-secondary schools, including for-profit colleges, in which more than 46,000 students were enrolled.

“We won’t know until five or 10 years down the road” how the change will affect oversight of for-profit colleges, Dies said.

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The change comes as states may take on a greater role in policing such colleges. Experts expect the Trump administration to relax what had been, under Barack Obama, mounting federal scrutiny of such colleges for questionable marketing practices and degree programs.

Elimination of the board, meanwhile, was a win for Walker. He had proposed doing so in 2015 as part of the previous budget, but was rebuffed by lawmakers. In 2013, a potential effort by the board to hold for-profit colleges accountable for graduation and employment outcomes had been scuttled amid opposition from the industry.

This year, lawmakers passed a 2017-19 budget that called for shifting the EAB’s authority — and its equivalent of 6.5 staff positions — to DSPS on Jan. 1, while retaining the agency’s governing board through July.

Anspach said DSPS has five staffers doing the work previously done by EAB, plus a supervisor overseeing that, as well as other, work in the department’s Office of Education and Exams.

One of the former board members, Mark Kapocius, said he was concerned that losing its former staffers could result in a lack of expertise carrying out those functions. But Kapocius, a Walker appointee to the board, said he doesn’t oppose the concept of moving the functions into DSPS, which oversees state licensing of professions ranging from accountants to cosmetologists.

“I do think the natural evolution of what EAB was doing probably permitted it to be done by a different agency, and perhaps more efficiently,” Kapocius said.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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