For-profit Colleges Open Another Front

For months, leaders of for-profit colleges have promised to pull out all the stops to fight the Obama administration’s plan to impose tough new rules on the sector. Advocacy groups have undertaken expensive and highly visible marketing campaigns aimed at undercutting the government’s strategy with politicians and the public, and the colleges’ lobbying has in turn prompted federal lawmakers — especially given the heavy Republican gains in the newly convened Congress — to promise legislative intervention to prevent a forthcoming set of rules on "gainful employment" from taking effect.

On Friday, the colleges formally unveiled the third part of their strategy: asking the courts to block several of the administration’s regulations. The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (formerly the Career College Association) filed a lawsuit in federal court, asking a judge to invalidate three of the dozen-plus new rules that the Education Department issued in October to ensure the integrity of federal financial aid programs. The three disputed rules relate to state authorization of colleges, incentive compensation for recruiters, and misrepresentation of colleges’ programs and results.

The lawsuit, which the group’s president, Harris N. Miller, said it had chosen to file only after "our good faith efforts to work with the Department of Education to craft clear, workable rules through the negotiated rulemaking process and the public comment period failed," asks the court to temporarily bar the agency from enforcing three regulations that it says "go far beyond lawful regulatory efforts."

The for-profit colleges (and their defenders in Congress) have also vowed to take legal action if, as promised, the department issues regulations in the coming weeks aimed at requiring vocationally oriented colleges to prove that they prepare students for "gainful employment."

Miller said APSCU could not hold off on filing a broader lawsuit until those new rules come out because its member institutions are having to deal right now with vexing issues raised by the October regulations, which take effect in July.

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