2014 Campaign Shows Growing Public Disdain for For-Profit Colleges

Career College Central Summary:

  • In the 2012 election campaign, when a reporter asked GOP candidate Mitt Romney what he planned to do about higher education and college affordability, Romney praised for-profit colleges, and particularly one school, Florida’s Full Sail University, for its ability to “hold down the cost of their education.” It was eventually exposed that: (1) Full Sail was perhaps the third most expensive college in America, (2) Full Sail’s owners were heavy contributors to the Romney campaign, and (3) Romney’s own private equity firm was actually invested in Full Sail.  But whatever Romney’s motives in singling out this sector, it was notable that a leading office seeker was willing to praise the for-profit college industry, and that such praise did not create much concern with the public.
  • Times have changed dramatically since then. In 2014, numerous candidates for office have made a point of stressing their efforts to stand up for students by fighting the abuses of predatory for-profit colleges. Hillary Clinton also has singled out the for-profit college industry for criticism.  Meanwhile, even though the for-profit college industry continues to pour campaign contributions into Capitol Hill coffers, I haven’t found any 2014 candidates out there who, like the 2012 Romney, have affirmatively stressed their support for the industry. HBO comedian Bill Maher has even made an entrenched GOP House chairman’s support for the industry a central basis for his effort to oust that incumbent from office, while John Oliver offered a devastating attack on the industry on his own HBO show.  The numerous law enforcement investigations, and the overwhelming evidence that predatory colleges are deceiving, overcharging, and under-educating students, while taking in billions in taxpayer money, has made this industry toxic in campaign discourse.
  • Here are some examples of how for-profit colleges are pariahs on the campaign trail:

    • Wisconsin Democratic attorney general candidate Susan Happ released a plan on October 3 to work with other state attorneys general and federal agencies to crack down on for-profit colleges that harm students. Her plan includes imposing “hefty penalties” for consumer violations and providing veterans with better information about for-profit schools, which Happ charges targets vets with deceptive, high-pressure sales tactics. 
    • Massachusetts Democratic attorney general candidate Maura Healey, too, has made an aggressive plan to take on abusive for-profit colleges a key part of her campaign. Healey calls the industry’s tactics a “definition of a public policy disaster” and says the next state has a “moral” responsibility to lead on this issue. The current Massachusetts AG, Martha Coakley, is running for governor, and is touting her own strong record of investigating this industry and punishing bad actors. 
    • The Chicago Reader reported on how Illinois governor candidate Bruce Rauner “makes money from for-profit schools and worthless degrees,” noting that Rauner’s private equity firm and foundation have invested in EDMC and other for-profit college companies with a record of deceiving and abusing students. Rather than embracing Rauner’s connections to the for-profit college industry, Rauner’s spokesman tried to minimize them.

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