The last two years have not been kind to for-profit colleges. Claims of widespread fraud and abuse have led to multi-million dollar lawsuits, increased scrutiny from Democratic policymakers, and a new set of regulations designed to hold for-profit institutions accountable for their graduates' future employment. The for-profits responded as most firms in the cross-hairs of federal regulators do: They hired lobbyists. Lots of them.
When the Obama administration softened the proposed regulations, many observers chalked it up to the costly lobbying effort. Since for-profits get most of their revenue from federal student aid, millions of dollars in lobbying raises questions about whose interests, exactly, are being protected. For many on the left, the lobbying campaign reinforced the conventional wisdom that, when given a choice between educating students or serving their own private interests, for-profits in education will spend more on the latter. Journalists from the New York Times and the Huffington Post have cast the story as yet another win for special interests.
But the drama surrounding for-profit colleges misses a more important storyline. When it comes to lobbying Congress and the president, for-profit colleges cannot hold a candle to America's public and nonprofit colleges and universities. In an industry where public money is plentiful and accountability is weak, it pays to have a man in Washington to make sure it stays that way.
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