November 27, 2012

For-Profit College Industry’s Phony Pitch to Obama: Now We’re BFFs!

For-Profit College Industry's Phony Pitch to Obama: Now We're BFFs!


The controversial for-profit college industry, threatened by the Obama’s Administration’s efforts to hold it accountable for a torrent of waste, fraud, and abuse at the expense of students and taxpayers, bet heavily on a Romney and GOP victory in 2012.  The industry, which gets $32 billion a year from taxpayers and whose biggest players get 86 percent of their revenues from federal funds, gave millions of that money to Republican candidates and Super PACs. This was on top of the tens of millions the industry has spent on lobbying, lawyering, and advertising to defeat the Obama reforms.

So, having bet on the wrong horse, and with its enrollments and revenues already in serious decline, what does the industry say to Obama now?  We’re your best friends.

The chief lobbyist for the industry, former Congressman Steve Gunderson, writes in Roll Call:

[T]he president and private for-profit schools have a common mission, and … neither can succeed without the other’s success.

President Barack Obama received historic levels of support from women, African- Americans, Hispanics and young adults up to age 30. … This base of political support is the very description of the students served by our private-sector colleges. More than 60 percent of our students are women and about 40 percent are African-American or Hispanic. This link provides an opportunity for us to advance our common interests….

Considering the legions of working parents, single moms, veterans and underserved citizens who use our schools to bring them closer to a better life, our institutions are part of the vision the president communicated.

OK, the nerve of some people. I’ve heard Gunderson say more than once that the companies who pay his salary “should be congratulated” for enrolling students of color and other underserved people. But simply signing up students and depositing their federal checks is much, much worse than doing nothing for them if your school does not provide a quality education, a valued degree, or reasonable job placement assistance. Schools should be congratulated if they actually do those things for students.

Sadly, many of the schools that are part of Mr. Gunderson’s trade association, APSCU, do no such thing. They excel at recruiting students with misleading and coercive recruiting tactics. They often fail at everything else, leaving students across the country with insurmountable debt that ruins their lives. Several of them were profiled this week in a report from ABC News. Some reach out to me almost every week, with heartbreaking stories of big for-profit colleges promising them great jobs with big salaries at the end of their studies, but leaving them with weak programs, credits that won’t transfer to traditional colleges, phony career assistance efforts, and degrees that are often considered a joke by employers. They owe tens of thousands, even over $100,000, in student loan debt, debt that can’t be discharged in bankruptcy, and they have no earthly idea how they’ll ever pay it back.

Far from being the friends and empowerers of people of color, women, veterans, and low-income people, many of the big for-profit colleges have been some of their worst predators.

If Gunderson’s trade association truly wants to, as he says, “work with [this] administration,” it should begin by dropping its expensive lawsuit aimed at derailing common sense Obama rules that would weed out the worst for-profit programs. It should embrace a genuine reform agenda that protects students against fraud and rewards those schools that truly help students learn and build careers.

This article also appears on Huffington Post.