LONG ISLAND PRESS: Higher Ed Lobby Quietly Joins For-Profit Schools to Roll Back Tighter Rules

Career College Central Summary:

The Obama administration is set to achieve one of its top domestic policy goals after years of wrangling. For-profit colleges, which receive tens of billions of dollars in U.S. grants and loans yet often leave their students with little beyond crushing debt, will need to meet new standards or risk losing taxpayer dollars.
But as the July 1 deadline approaches, the troubled industry has been mounting a last-ditch effort to avert or roll back the new rules. And suddenly it’s getting a lift from a set of unlikely allies: traditional colleges and universities.
For years, the higher education establishment has viewed the for-profit education business as both a rival and an unsavory relation — the cousin with the rap sheet who seeks a cut of the family inheritance. Yet, in a striking but little-noticed shift, nearly all of the college establishment’s representatives in Washington are siding with for-profit colleges in opposing the government’s crackdown.
  • Most of the traditional higher education lobbying groups signed onto a recent letter to Congress stating their support for Republican legislation that would block the new restrictions on for-profit colleges, as well as undo or weaken other accountability rules for colleges. And a new report on higher education regulation commissioned by the Senate and overseen by the American Council on Education, the leading lobby group for traditional schools, slammed the rules on for-profit colleges as part of a broader critique of the administration’s approach.
  • The emerging alliance points to a new calculation by the higher education lobby. By throwing in with the for-profits, traditional schools might be able to capitalize on the Republicans’ current control of Congress in order to limit the government’s reach into their own campuses. Among other things, colleges and universities would like to block the proposed new federal ratings system designed to help families choose institutions based on how many of their students graduate and where they get jobs.
  • This bid for GOP favor may seem counter-intuitive, given that many conservatives view academia as a bastion of pampered liberalism. In reality, the higher education lobby represents an industry as self-interested as any other—the two largest of its many trade groups reported spending $500,000 on federal lobbying last year—and it sees an opportunity in the de-regulatory instincts of the Republican majority.
  • The gambit underscores one of the under-appreciated truths about lobbying in Washington in an era of divided government: Special interests are often as interested in preserving a favorable status quo as they are in getting government to take an action to their benefit. To that end, gridlock can be a feature to be encouraged, not something to expunge.
  • At stake in this case is the roughly $150 billion that the federal government shovels annually into colleges and universities in the form of Pell grants and subsidized loans for students. Current and former higher education regulators say the federal government is obliged to assure that taxpayers are getting results for that spending.
  • “The higher ed lobby doesn’t want any accountability—they want money, and they want money without limitations, without restrictions, without accountability to anybody outside the academy,” said David Bergeron, who served as Obama’s acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education before joining the Center for American Progress, a Democratic think tank that’s close to the administration.

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