September 28, 2020

Those Troubling For-Profit College Emails: Read Them Here

Those Troubling For-Profit College Emails: Read Them Here

Last week, US News reported on a pair of emails that Steve Gunderson, the CEO of the for-profit colleges’ trade association, CECU, sent to his members.  

In one, Gunderson, a former Republican congressman, makes blatant the organization’s preference for a Donald Trump and GOP victory in 2020 — a partiality that is not surprising, given that the former head of scam Trump University and his for-profit education loving Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have reversed all of the important college accountability measures established in the Obama years, giving the industry every possible gift. But Gunderson also outlines an ongoing CECU effort to seek support from “urban members of Congress,” by approaching the offices of Black and Hispanic House members, as a hedge in the event Democrats prevail.

Gunderson notes to his members that “many of our schools are in urban areas and thus Democrat Congressional Districts.” He reports that his office has researched and targeted Democratic House members, identifying a group whom CECU needs to groom into “reliable and informed voices for our sector” and another group representing “untapped potential.” He further explains, “Many of these Members are African-American or Hispanic. And thus, we have engaged a Democrat lobby firm with strong ties to both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.” 

In a second email, Gunderson describes an urgent Labor Day phone call from Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), one of the industry’s most loyal backers. Foxx apparently had looked at the Joe Biden website and raised alarms about its content; Gunderson says Foxx “told us to tell our members it was time to ‘stretch those wallets,'” meaning provide bigger donations to GOP 2020 candidates.

Gunderson, alerted by Foxx, seems to find a smoking gun in Biden website language saying that his administration would “require for-profits to first prove their value to the U.S. Department of Education before gaining eligibility for federal aid.” Detective Gunderson tells his members, “We have told you many times that some within the Democrat Party seek to remove our sector from participation in all Title IV programs. Here is the proof!”

For Gunderson, apparently, requiring for-profit colleges to prove their worth before getting federal aid is tantamount to cutting off that aid. I have to wonder if any of his members felt insulted. 

In fact, many schools in Gunderson’s industry, including many that have been members of CECU, have documented records of ripping off taxpayers and deceiving and abusing students, leaving them without the careers they sought and buried in debt.

My views on these Gunderson emails, along with smart analysis from Clare McCann of New America and Liz King of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, are included in the US News article. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), singled out by Gunderson’s emails, along with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), as particular menaces, subsequently issued a statement: 

The for-profit colleges’ recent strategy memo tells all…. Steve Gunderson… has set his sights on exploiting Black and Brown students and the politicians who represent them. Add this disgusting strategy to the list of for-profit college outrages: worthless diplomas and mountains of debt—just what young people don’t need.

I can offer a bit more on this controversy. 

First, the “Democrat lobby firm” Gunderson has hired to lobby House members of color is Fulcrum Public Affairs, founded by lobbyists who previously worked at the fabled, collapsed Podesta Group. The most recent federal lobbying disclosure filing shows that CECU paid Fulcrum $40,000 in the second quarter of 2020 for lobbyists from the firm — Oscar Ramirez, Dana Thompson, Aaron Trujillo, Margaret Franklin, and Miya Patel — to work Capitol Hill on issues including reauthorization of the Higher Education Act; Rep. Bobby Scott’s (D-VA) College Affordability Act, which addressed a range of issues affecting for-profits; COVID relief bills that sent more taxpayer dollars to for-profit schools; and the G.I. Bill, which provides education aid to veterans.

All of these Fulcrum lobbyists previously worked for Democratic House members, almost all of them members of color. Another form reveals that Fulcrum also is lobbying for International Education Corp., a CECU member and the disgraceful operators of awful predatory schools including Florida Career College, which, a recent lawsuit alleges, targets Black students for its worst abuses.

Second, Republic Report has obtained the same CECU emails about which U.S. News reported. U.S. News didn’t post them, so here they are:

August 15, 2020 “What Will We Wish We Had Done?”

September 9, 2020 “A Phone Call from Congresswoman Virginia Foxx”

As always with Gunderson’s effusive writing, don’t take a drink every time he uses an exclamation mark. You’d be dead.