You don’t have to read many headlines these days to know that Democrats have declared all-out war on for-profit education. The question is why?
Consider that proprietary colleges are the direct competitor to public-sector education – a pet special interest for Democrats but a multi-billion dollar fleecing of the taxpayers. Judging by the actions of key Democrats over the last year, it is clear that they will do whatever it takes to keep billions of dollars flowing to their elitist friends at public universities, even if it penalizes those Americans the Democrat Party claims it wants to help.
Why else would Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, fight so hard against for-profit colleges, the very institutions who put higher education within reach of most Americans, especially the poor and disadvantaged?
There may be more to it than meets the eye. We know that Harkin’s family directly benefits from the staunch support for public sector colleges. The fact that Harkin’s wife is on the Board of Regents for Iowa State University raises serious questions. Iowa State is a public institution that suffers in enrollment due to the very group Harkin wishes to stifle – for-profit colleges.
One would think that Harkin would recuse himself from such a controversial topic, given his family’s interest in the issue. Yet he did not. And what’s worse is that the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) has claimed that Harkin and his staff put serious pressure of them in preparing a report on for-profit colleges last year.
What Americans need now is less self-serving rhetoric and more facts.
For the 50% of high schools students who manage to graduate, massive debt from public universities awaits. These schools have had very little competition, and have acted accordingly. Public colleges and universities have consistently raised their tuitions with little concern for results or innovation, all the while the federal government subsidy spigot kept funding flowing.
Low-cost, for-profit education offers an alternative to pricey state schools, and unlike their public-sector counterparts, they pay taxes. This is not of minor consequence when you consider our record-setting $1.5 trillion budget deficit this year.
Furthermore, for-profit higher education institutions have brought innovation to education.
These schools have capitalized on distance-learning, fostering internet-based education with some in-class requirements. They have built degree plans that cater to Americans who ordinarily wouldn’t be about to attend school — single parents, people working different shifts and non-flexible work times, and those without reliable transportation. While public education has been rigid in both funding and choices, for-profit schools put a college degree within reach for hundreds of thousands of Americans wanting a better life.
Offering the public more is the American way. So the idea that Sen. Harkin would be so hell bent on limiting the public’s access to for-profit education is unsettling to say the least, and deserved of closer inspection.
Harkin in essence wants to impose rules on an industry that educates low-income and otherwise disadvantaged Americans all because the private-sector schools make a profit.
So according to Harkin, if private-sector schools shouldn’t be making a profit, who should?
Infamous Wall Street short seller, Steve Eisman, may have a clue. At Harkin’s request. Eisman testified at a hearing designed solely to beat up on for-profit colleges. Yet Eisman conveniently failed to disclose that he had a financial stake in the matter – he was short-selling of for-profit college stocks. So in denigrating for-profit colleges, Eisman was essentially lining his pockets. Shouldn’t Harkin have known better? How and why was a short-seller called to testify about for-profit colleges?
Eisman also appears to have colluded with the Department of Education to develop “gainful employment” rules, which would deny students the right to get financial aid to attend for-profit colleges. One reason for implementing the gainful employment rule is that many of these for-profit college graduates are working in fields not directly related to their degrees. But the same can be said of public university graduates. Perhaps a study should be commissioned to quantify the people who graduated from public universities who are not using their degrees.
The other argument to punish private-sector colleges focuses on their students’ default rate on student loans. Loan defaults are indeed higher at for-profit colleges, but this would be expected. These students generally begin college under difficult circumstances. And obtaining an education is not a recipe for instant success. Even when someone earns a college degree, it can still be difficult to make the transition into a new career, especially for single mothers and those struggling with multiple jobs.
Further, with the current state of the economy under the Obama administration, it is not like these graduates are entering a robust job market. The disadvantaged need an opportunity for higher education, particularly those who have no desire to become wards of the state.
These are the facts. Yet Harkin and the Democrats have proven yet again that the government wants a prominent role in the selection of winners and losers. And if you want to know which is which, as the saying goes, “Follow the money.”
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