For-Profit Colleges Mount Unprecedented Battle For Influence In Washington

The morning after an 11th-hour deal to avert a government shutdown earlier this month, as many in Washington were still catching up on lost sleep, a group representing the for-profit college industry raced to send an online plea marked "urgent."

After a lobbying and campaign finance blitz totaling millions of dollars over the past year, the industry appeared to be on the verge of getting a special provision in the budget bill that would block increased government oversight of their schools. The matter was still not decided, they insisted.

"We need you to make calls this weekend!" urged the letter from the group to its more than 1,600 member colleges. "Members and staff are meeting over the weekend to finalize the details of the [bill]. We encourage you TODAY and throughout this weekend to contact the offices of your Congressman/Senators urging them to support inclusion of the … amendment in the final package."

The email communique was a last-ditch bid to protect the massive federal subsidies that have fueled the spectacular growth of what is now a multibillion-dollar, publicly traded industry in higher education. With student loan defaults growing alongside profits at many of the largest companies, the government is seeking more accountability for colleges that promise training for careers, but leave students with unsustainable debts.

As the stakes for this fast-growing industry rise, so have the dollars spent on an expansive lobbying campaign to ensure the government money keeps flowing.

Some of the largest publicly traded college corporations receive nearly 90 percent of their revenues from federal student aid programs. While government money fuels increased enrollments and record profits, the industry has poured increasing amounts of those proceeds into an unprecedented effort to preempt the rules through greater influence in Washington.

In other words, an industry that derives a vast majority of its revenue from federal funding is actively using that money to fight government efforts for accountability.

The last-minute scramble earlier this month was only the latest chapter in the industry’s yearlong battle against increased federal oversight of their schools.

Overall, the industry spent more than $8.1 million on lobbying in 2010, up from $3.3 million in 2009, according to a Huffington Post analysis of lobbying data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

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