April 1, 2016

For-Profit College Trade Group Responds to Obama Reforms With Tantrum


I was just alerted to this gem of a tantrum / press release issued two weeks ago by the for-profit college trade association APSCU, whose strategy of aggressive, expensive lobbying and litigation has utterly failed, and which now has lost much of its funding. Having harbored as members now disgraced and shut-down schools like Corinthian, ATI, and FastTrain, and having been dominated by and having now lost as members troubled industry giants like EDMC, ITT, Kaplan, Career Education Corp., and Bridgepoint, APSCU is down to its indignant CEO, former congressman Steve Gunderson (R-WI), and a skeleton crew.

It’s apparent from this press release, responding to the Department of Education proceedings to craft new rules to protect students, that APSCU also has apparently lost access to remotely credible arguments and even to spellcheck.

Behold, and I will see you below.

APSCU Statement on the Conclusion of Negotiated Rulemaking

March 18, 2016 – Washington, DC – The below can be attributed to Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of APSCU:

Much like the gainful employment regulation before it, the likely action by the U.S. Department of Education on defense of repayment [sic] is nothing more than a very thinly vailed [sic] attempt to deny higher education access and opportunity to new traditional students that rely on our institutions. Effort like these [sic] put the future of career education in America at risk.

Department or advocate claims to the contrary are misleading.

Despite efforts by the Department, and its ideological allies, to try and pass [sic] arbitration as nefarious and anti-student– the fact is arbitration is used all across the country, every day by parties on all sides of all issues. Every American carrying a credit card today has agreed to arbitration in the event there is a dispute between the cardholder and their bank. To portray arbitration as exceptional or highly unique to higher education is ridiculous.

This latest regulatory effort is just an another attempt to pretend to be on the side of students, but really the Department is advancing an ideological effort instead of working cooperatively with the Congress and higher education stakeholders to advance meaningful reauthorization of Higher Education Act reauthorization [sic].

Once again in this release, as it did endlessly in fighting against the Obama Administration’s gainful employment rule, APSCU claims that policies that impose quality and integrity standards on colleges in order to get federal aid are bad because they deny students access to some college programs.  But, as the U.S. Court of Appeals emphatically indicated in rejecting APSCU’s challenge to the gainful rule, it appropriately protects students and taxpayers to stop giving federal aid to programs that lack quality and integrity.

Once again, APSCU claims that the Obama Administration is acting for “ideological” reasons. But what is the ideology?  No one is stopping any institutions, for-profit or non-profit, from keeping eligibility for federal student aid, so long as they serve their students instead of just their bottom line.  Protecting students and taxpayers from waste, fraud, and abuse is not an ideology, it’s just common sense.

As to APSCU’s claim that the Department of Education has been and is again acting “to pretend to be on the side of students,” I can’t even. I mean, standing up against predatory practices, against pressure by well-connected APSCU lobbyists and APSCU-friendly politicians — why would the Department take the heat to do this other than to vindicate the interests of students?

Now, as indicated in the press release, APSCU also wants to defend the use by its members of enrollment agreements forcing students to commit in advance that they will not be able to bring any dispute with the college — whether they are deceived into signing up, or raped on campus, or subjected to any other abuse — into a court of law, but instead can only go to secret, private arbitration.

APSCU’s statement doesn’t mention that only for-profit colleges and a handful of “covert for-profits” — for-profits that have recently converted to non-profit status on questionable terms — force students into arbitration agreements; legitimate non-profit and state schools do just fine without denying students their legal rights. The availability of legal remedies for students might finally deter many for-profit colleges from deceiving and abusing their students, while costing taxpayers nothing.  That’s why the Department of Education finally seems to be moving toward ending the practice of forced arbitration as a condition of receiving the tens of billions of taxpayer dollars annually that the for-profit college industry has been taking in. And, I guess, that’s why APSCU is completely freaking out.

To say, as APSCU does, that forced arbitration is completely cool because credit card companies do it, I can’t even.  I mean, those practices, as media investigations have exposed, have allowed rampant abuses of customers by the credit card industry and others. They are hardly a model to be touted as perfectly appropriate in governing what should be a relationship of trust and caring between a student and a college.

APSCU last month held its annual Capitol Hill lobby day and meetings, from which it barred reputable media outlets. The group is now preparing for its annual convention, this year June 5 to 8 in Orlando.  So far it hasn’t announced a big-name speaker to match past keynotes like George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, and, last year, Newt Gingrich, or its past showcases for a semi-faux version of a once great classic rock act. The days of glamor and opulence having ceased, APSCU, now dominated by board member and Florida college owner Art Keiser, who pushed the failed lawsuits to get rid of the gainful employment rule, is apparently trying to regain a focus on career education and to reach out to other education organizations.

APSCU is right about one thing: Our country needs a strong commitment to career education, to helping people, especially low-income people, prepare for careers in fields like medical assisting, HVAC and vehicle repair, and information technology. We need greater investment by federal and state government, high schools, community colleges, as well as private industry to do this. But APSCU’s approach — defending the right of its most predatory member companies to offer high-priced, low-quality programs, without meaningful accountability — has been a disaster for students, for taxpayers, for career education.  And now it has been a disaster for APSCU and its members.

This article also appears on Huffington Post.