February 6, 2012

Newt, Callista, and For-Profit Colleges

Newt Gingrich. Photo: Gage Skidmore
We know from a front-page New York Times story that Mitt Romney thinks the world of for-profit colleges, especially one school whose executives have contributed money to the Romney campaign and Super PAC. But a key for-profit college trade group, APSCU, probably just ensured it will also enjoy warm relations in the event of a Gingrich Administration. Last month, APSCU hired former Wisconsin Republican Congressman Steve Gunderson as its new CEO. Turns out, he’s got a special tie to Newt Gingrich’s wife and constant companion. Callista Bisek’s first job out of college was working in Rep. Gunderson’s office, and their connection is even older. Recounting Bisek’s teenage years, The New Yorker recently reported:

Her involvement in politics came largely through music: sometimes she would sing on parade floats for Representative Steve Gunderson, her friend Matt’s older brother.

Whether or not the Gingrichs make it to the White House, some have suggested that the gentlemanly Gunderson’s arrival, filling the slot vacated last year by the more pugnacious Harris Miller could signal a kinder, gentler era for the for-profits.  Miller notably made a video mocking community colleges, and during his tenure and beyond, the for-profits have lobbied mercilessly to avoid accountability for programs that harm students and taxpayers.

Let’s hope for a more constructive stance by APSCU under Gunderson.  But that may also require the continued mellowing of one Phil Singer, a consultant who is listed as the  media contact on recent APSCU press releases, including the one announcing Gunderson’s appointment. Singer was the Hillary Clinton 2008 campaign spokesman whose scorched earth approach to opposition research and media relations culminated in meltdowns at a breakfast with journalists and before the Clinton campaign staff.

  • Pamela Wall

    Steve Gunderson was a Republican representative from Wisconsin, not Minnesota. He and Callista hail from the Whitehall area.

  • David Halperin

    Thanks — fixed that right after we saw your comment. I think the movie “Fargo” caused a disruption.

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  • Hootyman

    > for-profits have lobbied mercilessly to avoid accountability for programs that harm students and taxpayers..

    Really? Would you argue that not-for-profits have also “lobbied mercilessly” so that they are exempt from the Gainful Employment Act’s accountability?

    Why shouldn’t the same rules for student loan deb/repayment apply to not-for-profits as well as for-profit schools?

    Isn’t it true that few institutions in the country — whether public, for-profit, or “non-profit” — could meet the gainful employment regulation’s arbitrary standards. The average 4-year public school would fail, with students graduating with a 12 percent debt-to-earnings ratio. So would the average for-profit, with a 13 percent ratio. And private non-profits would fail worst of all, with a 16 percent ratio (twice the proposed standard). In fact, about half of all student borrowers nationwide do not meet the requirement.

    This unfair and unequal treatment from the Obama administration is unsurprising considering the long-standing hostility to for-profit schools from the traditional education establishment.