The U.S. Education Department is creating a new office to protect federal student loan borrowers and to investigate scams in higher education.

It sounds like something out of a Law & Order episode: the Student Aid Enforcement Unit. Among other things, the $13.6 million unit will probe schools that lie to prospective students about their graduation and job placement rates.

“When Americans invest their time, money and effort to gain new skills, they have a right to expect they’ll actually get an education that leads to a better life for them and their families,” said Acting Secretary of Education John King Jr. “When that doesn’t happen we all pay the price.”

Over the past few years, experts have been calling on the administration to hold bad actors accountable.

“It’s about time,” says federal student aid expert Barmak Nassirian. As student loan debt soared, Nassirian says the Obama administration should have created the office seven years ago – in its first term.

“You kind of wonder where has enforcement been thus far,” Nassirian says.

Monday’s announcement comes as the Department struggles to handle more than 8,000 complaints against for-profit colleges, including Corinthian College, which was shut down for using misleading sales tactics.

In Massachusetts, thousands of former Corinthian students are still hoping – and waiting – for debt relief:

[Cross-posted On Campus: the WGBH News Higher Education Blog]

Kirk Carapezza

Kirk Carapezza is the lead reporter for On Campus. Kirk has reported for Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison, Wis., and Vermont Public Radio in Montpelier, Vt. He's been a writer and producer at WBUR in Boston; a teacher and coach at Nativity Preparatory School in New Bedford, Mass.; a Fenway Park tour guide; and a tourist abroad.

Kirk received his B.A. from the College of the Holy Cross and earned his M.S. from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. When he's not reporting or editing stories on campus, you can find him posting K's on the Wall at Fenway.