Republicans to Boycott Harkin Hearing on For-Profit Colleges

Senate Republicans on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee say they’re boycotting an upcoming hearing announced by Chairman Tom Harkin, citing a growing list of issues with the far left Iowan’s crusade against for-profit colleges.

"We will not participate in the hearing scheduled to take place on June 7," says a May 31 letter from Sen. Michael Enzi, the top ranking Republican on the panel, to Harkin, adding that "until the Majority demonstrates a sincere willingness to hold fair hearings on higher education, we will not participate in any hearings on this issue."

Harkin is under increasing scrutiny for his role in the push for strict regulations on for-profit schools, facing criticism for inviting noted Wall Street short seller Steven Eisman to testify on the issue despite Eisman’s financial conflicts of interest, and over allegations from an internal GAO document he pressured investigators to include numerous details in a report on for-profit schools. GAO later corrected a slew of errors in that report.

An April 13 letter from every Republican on the HELP Committee laid out a litany of concerns about Harkin’s four previous hearings on the schools.

The hearings have been “disorganized and prejudicial,” the letter said. “As a result, the record includes the testimony of a witness now accused of improperly attempting to influence a Department of Education rulemaking, the potentially false testimony of another witness, the Majority’s unprofessional treatment of Republican-selected witnesses, and a [GAO] report so flawed the managing director of the investigative unit was reassigned and the entire unit reorganized.”

Harkin has remained defiant to his critics, taking to the Senate floor May 19 to unload on for-profit colleges. In response to the Republican boycott, Harkin spokeswoman Justine Sessions said the chairman would “welcome” discussions about additional hearings and “remains hopeful” Republicans “will reconsider.”

At issue in the for-profit colleges, including many career colleges or vocational schools, are cries from critics the schools use high-pressure sales techniques to trick unprepared students into enrolling, siphoning their federal aid and leaving the students debt-ridden and ill-prepared to find a job.

Industry representatives say the charges are overblown and that proposed regulation to address the issue at the Department of Education will decimate the sector rather than reform it.
Enzi’s letter announcing the boycott also includes a new charge against Harkin: the Wyoming Republican says Harkin’s staff suggested the hearing is intended as a means of embarrassing the schools for not cooperating with Harkin.

“We are troubled by statements from the Majority staff suggesting that the continuation of this investigation is motivated in part by a desire to embarrass the institutions you were unable to persuade to participate in previous hearings,” the letter says.


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