October 2, 2020

Keiser, Shireman Picked For DeVos Advisory Panel

Keiser, Shireman Picked For DeVos Advisory Panel

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives announced new appointments to the Secretary of Education’s National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), a panel that advises Secretary Betsy DeVos on college accreditation and other issues. It may be the first time there is a NACIQI member who has filed a federal complaint against another committee member alleging misuse of a college. 

The House Democrats used one of their three slots to select Robert Shireman, former deputy under secretary of education in the Obama administration. Shireman is a strong advocate for greater accountability for for-profit colleges, as well as accountability for non-profit schools that have converted to non-profit status yet still funnel big money to the former for-profit owners.

One of those former owners was also nominated to NACIQI, but by House Republicans: Arthur Keiser, the politically powerful Floridian whose Keiser University converted to non-profit status in an arrangement rife with conflicts of interest, whose schools and executives have repeatedly been in trouble with law enforcement, and whose own mother is now suing him for fraud. Keiser’s appointment is a renewal; he currently serves as NACIQI’s chairman, where he shifts between neutral collegiality and partisan defenses of predatory institutions.

Shireman has complained to the IRS that Everglades College, owner of Keiser University, does not deserve the non-profit status it received, because the school continues to be operated mainly to benefit Arthur Keiser. Former Keiser staff say the IRS has indeed been looking into Keiser’s operations.

NACIQI’s 18-member board, whose members serve six year terms, is comprised of six members appointed by the Secretary of Education, six by congressional Republicans, and six by congressional Democrats. The other two new picks by House Republicans are, like Keiser, associated with for-profit colleges: Jennifer Blum, who was until last year a lawyer with Laureate Education (a subject of student legal complaints alleging predatory practices) and now has her own higher education law firm, and Robert Mayes Jr., CEO of for-profit Columbia Southern Education Group. 

DeVos courted more controversy in February when she appointed to NACIQI, to fill the sole slot reserved for a student, the former confidential assistant at the Department to Diane Auer Jones, the Department’s top higher education official and the deceptive architect of the Trump administration’s complete rollback of measures to hold predatory schools accountable. 

Shireman is director of higher education excellence and senior fellow at The Century Foundation, where he and his team have produced valuable research and analysis aimed at improving educational opportunities and driving bad actors from the federal student aid system. Since he drew attention in the Obama years for designing new measures to hold predatory colleges accountable, Shireman has been the subject of outrageous, false attacks by for-profit colleges and their paid shills.

Keiser has in the past responded to Shireman’s criticisms by repeating a false assertion that Shireman had an improper relationship with Wall Street investors betting against for-profit college stocks. (Disclosure: For 25 years, I have been, in various capacities, a lawyer for and colleague of Shireman.)