February 10, 2021

Should An Accreditor Send Its Schools Lobbying Alerts From a Trade Association?

Should An Accreditor Send Its Schools Lobbying Alerts From a Trade Association?

The coronavirus relief bill under consideration by the House of Representatives includes a provision to correct a strange piece of law that has long motivated predatory for-profit colleges to target their deceptive and coercive recruiting at America’s veterans and military service members. The new bill would alter the federal 90-10 rule, which requires for-profit colleges to obtain at least 10 percent of their revenue from sources other than federal aid in order to remain eligible for that aid. But current law somehow counts GI bill funding for veterans education and Defense Department aid for active troops and their families on the non-federal side of the ledger — meaning colleges can get 90 percent of their revenue from Department of Education grants and loans and still stay in the game.

That anomaly has meant poor-quality schools are heavily motivated to up their quotient of military students — treating them as “dollar signs in uniform” — even, as is often the case, where their programs will leave the students buried in debt and without the career advancement they sought.

The new legislation would, going forward, count the VA and Pentagon money on the federal side of the scale, pushing colleges to prove their value by obtaining more revenue from state aid, scholarships, employers, and students themselves.

Most veterans groups have long supported this reform of the 90-10 rule, as have other advocacy organizations concerned with students, civil rights, and education policy, and many pro-student members of Congress, even, recently, some Senate Republicans.

But the for-profit college industry has aggressively opposed 90-10 reform for many years, and its trade association, CECU, wants to stop the legislation now. Despite a recent change in leadership, CECU seems to be continuing its long-standing approach of defending the position of the worst quality schools, rather than helping to advantage good actors in its industry.

On Tuesday CECU sent an email alert to its members — the owners and executives of the for-profit and career schools that are part of the group — entitled “Tell Congress to Reject Partisan Changes to the 90/10 Rule.” 

In the message, CECU warned members about the impending “mark up” session for the bill in the House Education and Labor Committee: “There is no time to waste…Use your voice now to demand the House reject the partisan changes to the 90 / 10 formula…. We ask that you reach out to your representatives” in Congress. The message has links to House members and instructions for highlighting the issue on social media.

The CECU message did not clarify why the 90/10 reform should be considered “partisan.”

It’s disappointing that CECU remains opposed to a reform that would help students, especially veterans and service members, and would encourage schools to improve their quality and ethics. 

But what I found more surprising in this instance is that one way I received the CECU email was from someone who got it as a forward from Judy Hendrickson, the interim executive director of the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET), a private accrediting body.  Hendrickson prefaced the CECU message this comment of her own: “Members: Please see the notice below regarding proposed changes to the 90/10 rule.” 

Accreditors are the gatekeepers for federal aid — students may use Department of Education grants and loans only at accredited schools. Accreditors are supposed to review educational quality and integrity so students and taxpayer dollars only go to productive schools. So should ACCET be alerting its members — a wide range of career-focused schools — to a lobbying effort for a controversial position, one that many advocates for students oppose?

One respected higher education expert, who asked not to be named because of concerns over their job, said of ACCET’s action, “It’s not illegal or otherwise forbidden, but the circulation of an incendiary call to action like this tips the accreditor’s hand — far from being a regulator and overseer of institutional integrity, they are basically lobbyists and advocates.”

ACCET’s Hendrickson did not reply to a request for comment. CECU declined to comment on ACCET’s action, but did provide a statement on the legislation from Jason Altmire, the former Democratic congressman (PA) who is the group’s new CEO; Altmire says U.S. veterans “have earned the right to decide what schools and careers are best for them, and do not deserve to have this choice stripped from them by politicians” and that CECU “will continue to fight for their right to make their own educational decisions without interference from partisans in Congress.”

Despite CECU’s lobbying effort, the House Education and Labor Committee yesterday adopted the legislation, rejecting a Republican amendment to undo the 90-10 provision. This important pro-veteran, pro-student reform appears headed for the final House bill, and then to the Senate.