When Fort Lauderdale-based Keiser University took one of Florida’s community colleges to court last month for slander, the suit garnered national attention as evidence of just how nasty the debate over for-profit colleges had become.
The two sides of the issue weren’t just disagreeing anymore, they were actually duking it out in court.
On Wednesday, Keiser — a for-profit school that initially accused Florida State College at Jacksonville of orchestrating a “destructive media campaign” — took a step back and announced it had voluntarily agreed to abandon its lawsuit. Keiser vigorously opposes a U.S. Department of Education proposal calling for tighter oversight of for-profit colleges — new rules that Florida State College administrators have openly supported.
“We spent a full day yesterday talking,” Keiser University Chancellor Arthur Keiser said. “It’s better than it was before. We’re looking forward to a long-term, positive relationship.”
Though both sides agreed to shake hands and move on, Florida State College General Counsel Jeanne Miller said her college will continue to advocate for new federal scrutiny of for-profits — including a hotly contested provision that would disqualify for-profit degree programs from federal funds if too many graduates are unable to pay back their student loans.
“This always has been and will continue to be about consumer protection,” Miller said. “Nothing changes.”
At one point, it appeared Keiser’s battle against community colleges might spread to local schools. In recent weeks, Keiser attorneys requested other Florida community colleges, including Miami-Dade College and Broward College, to turn over any e-mails, text messages or other records of communication with either Florida State College or other critics of the for-profit industry. The list of requested documents was so long that, more than three weeks later, Miami-Dade College was still assembling all the materials.
NO PLANNED ACTION
Keiser’s chancellor said those requests had merely been “for the lawyers to better understand the situation” and there is no planned legal action against other colleges.
When filing suit last month, Keiser University claimed that administrators of Florida State College at Jacksonville conspired to ruin Keiser’s reputation by spreading misleading student horror stories through various media outlets. Keiser complained that student enrollment growth slowed as a result, and said other adverse impacts were also attributable to the community college’s attacks — including healthcare sites becoming more reluctant to partner with Keiser as training locations, and high schools being lukewarm to Keiser recruiters.
Florida State College contended the lawsuit was an attempt to silence those who favor beefed-up regulations governing for-profit schools. For-profit colleges have been criticized by former students, federal officials and consumer advocates for using deceptive recruiting practices and charging high tuition for degree programs that sometimes have questionable value.