Rivals on the trail, but united in their love for the troubled for-profit college industry
Rivals on the trail, but united in their love for the troubled for-profit college industry

Rivals on the trail, but united in their love for the troubled for-profit college industry

As Ricksanity intensifies, Mitt Romney’s upstart challenger, Rick Santorum, appears ready to compete on yet another plane. Call it the For-Profit College Primary, with no delegates but lots of campaign cash up for grabs.

Romney certainly has staked his claim to be the For-Profit Education President. He has gushed on the campaign trail about for-profit colleges, and in particular how Florida for-profit Full-Sail University is able to “hold down the cost of education. ” In fact, Full Sail offers sky-high prices and a mixed record of student graduation and placement. Worse, it turned out that Full Sail’s CEO is a Romney fundraising co-chair, and he and his wife have each given the maximum $2,500 to Romney’s campaign and another $45,000 to the money Super PAC Restore Our Future, while the chairman of the private equity fund that owns Full Sail gave another $40,000 to the PAC.  Other for-profit college executives have contributed to Romney, including Education Management Corporation CEO Todd Nelson. A top Romney education advisor and fundraiser is Bill Hansen, who as Deputy Secretary of Education under George W. Bush, sent a directive  declaring that the government would go easy on for-profit college recruiting abuses, unleashing a decade of waste, fraud, and abuse in the sector.

Not to be outdone, Santorum has been trumpeting his own love for the wealthy but controversial for-profit education sector. Over the weekend, Santorum made headlines by saying that “the idea that the federal government should be running schools, frankly much less that the state government should be running schools, is anachronistic.”  Less noticed were remarks Santorum made last week to the Detroit Economic Club, criticizing President Obama’s effort to hold for-profit colleges accountable for leaving students deep in debt:

One of the concerns I have with this revitalized economy is to make sure that we have the education and training available to train people for these new jobs — including older workers. And what we’ve seen in this president is an assault on those very schools that do most of the training out there, and that’s the private schools. This president has had a war on private education.
This comes as a shock to some people, that the president would have a war on something. But this is consistent. He believes that private sector schools are somehow evil and they’re abusive, and his Education Department has done everything they could to make it harder for them to compete for loans and other things and to stay in business.
Yet they are going to be the principal tool, along with community colleges, to respond to this, what I believe will be exploding demand for skilled and semi-skilled workers to do the jobs of the future.
I will tell you I have a very, very different attitude toward private schools and training schools and technical schools and will work to make sure they are available and around and funded like any other school to be able to pick up and help the business community meet their training needs.

Another point of intersection, perhaps just a coincidence but worth pursuing: Foster Friess, the aspirin enthusiast who gave $670,000 in January to Santorum’s super PAC — the Red, White and Blue Fund – has also invested at least $3.5 million in Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller website, which has been a relentless cheerleader for the for-profit college industry and opponent of measures to protect students and taxpayers from industry abuses.

Santorum also has taken the time to beat up on traditional colleges and universities, a tack consistent with conservative talking points, but also presumably appealing to embattled for-profit college execs:

“Let’s look at colleges and universities,” Santorum said in the ballroom of the restored Frank Lloyd Wright Park Inn Hotel on Mason City’s town square. “They’ve become indoctrination centers for the left. Should we be subsidizing that?”
Santorum tossed out Harvard University’s motto, “Veritas,” Latin for truth. “They haven’t seen truth at Harvard in 100 years.”

(As a Senator, Santorum drew criticism when it was discovered that five of his children were attending a Pennsylvania on-line charter school, at a cost to Pennsylvania taxpayers of some $72,000, when the family resided in Virginia, which offered no such benefits.)

One higher education reporter has written, “Activists who track the political involvement of colleges and universities said the White House should worry about for-profit schools throwing their considerable financial resources behind whoever wins the Republican nomination.”  Those of us concerned with the distorting impact of money on politics should also be worried.

Filed under: Elections, Plutocrats

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