Representative Jeff Miller (R-FL)

Last week, President Obama made headlines when he signed an executive order designed to protect U.S. troops, veterans, and their families from the predatory abuses of some for-profit colleges. The executive order takes aim at some deceptive recruiting practices by these colleges — which soak up taxpayer dollars with little accountability — and requires them to give prospective students vital information like loan repayment amounts and transferability of their credits to other schools.

The group that is obviously not happy about this executive order protecting veterans is the for-profit college industry. Its lobbyists at the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU) called it a “deeply unfortunate development.”

Now, these lobbyists’ allies in Congress appear ready to attack Obama’s order. We’ve received word that the House Veterans Affairs Committee will be holding a hearing on May 16 scrutinizing the move. The committee plans to invite representatives from the for-profit college industry to offer them a chance to criticize the new executive order.

The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee is Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL). Soon after Obama issued the executive order, Miller said that it constituted an attack on the “free market” — an absurd claim, considering that the largest for-profit colleges can get 90 percent or more of their funding from the federal government via Education Department loans and grants plus G.I. Bill benefits. When so much of the money for a sector comes from taxpayers, government has a duty to protect against waste, fraud, and abuse.

It’s not surprising that some in Congress jumped up so quickly to stand with predatory colleges against America’s men and women in uniform. As usual, it’s all about the money.

Miller has been rewarded well by the taxpayer-subsidized subprime educational industry that he is now defending. The industry is his third-largest contributor this election cycle, even beating out big spenders like the medical industry and electric utilities. Here’s a list of some of these industry donations, which reads like a who’s who of bad actors among for-profit colleges and their trade associations:

Tied for Miller’s sixth-largest overall donor ($5000) is Kentucky’s Sullivan University, which came under investigation by a special prosecutor after its executives allegedly told its employees to donate money to and vote for the opponent of the state’s attorney general, who had began probing the school for abuses.

Sullivan, Westwood, and Bridgepoint don’t even have campuses in Miller’s state of Florida. It’s interesting that out-of-state for-profit colleges are donating to the congressman, given the fact that he doesn’t even have any positions on a committee that deals primarily with education.

It’s entirely possible that these predatory schools are donating to Miller because he chairs the chief committee dealing with veterans. Amidst stories of how these for-profit colleges are soaking up veterans’ dollars — eight schools collected $1 billion in veterans’ education benefits in 2010 alone — the industry likely is trying to influence Members of Congress who deal with veterans and active duty troops as a way to cut off criticism.

It remains to be seen exactly how Miller’s hearing will go — we expect representatives of U.S. troops and veterans to testify and stand up strong for Obama’s action, which they had been seeking.  But one thing’s for sure: Congressman Miller will have a strong incentive to side with the subprime schools bankrolling his campaign, rather than siding with America’s men and women in uniform.

Filed under: Congress

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