For-Profit Colleges Increase Donations to Friendly Politicians

As the Obama administration’s attacks on the for-profit education industry have become more pointed, companies in the sector have begun to spend more money on contributions to friendly politicians in Congress, Fredreka Schouten and Christopher Schnaars of USA Today report. One of the largest recipients of their largesse has been House Education Committee Chairman John [...]

As the Obama administration’s attacks on the for-profit education industry have become more pointed, companies in the sector have begun to spend more money on contributions to friendly politicians in Congress, Fredreka Schouten and Christopher Schnaars of USA Today report. One of the largest recipients of their largesse has been House Education Committee Chairman John Kline, who recently introduced a measure that would safeguard for-profit colleges’ access to federal student loans.

Kline introduced the “Supporting Academic Freedom through Regulatory Relief Act” bill earlier this month. It would prevent the Obama administration from putting into effect rules that would bar schools whose students carry unusually high education loan balances and who are less likely to fully repay them from accessing federal student loan funding.

A similar set of rules specifically targeting the for-profit industry were adopted after a Senate investigation report published in 2012 that questioned for-profit colleges’ recruitment practices, high tuition fees and levels of debt for their students.

Federal student aid has been lucrative for the industry. More than $30 billion in taxpayer funds flow to the schools each year, according to the Senate education panel’s report. About 60% of for-profit colleges receive more than 70% of their revenue from U.S. government programs, federal data show.

A USA TODAY analysis of newly filed campaign reports shows Kline raised $138,350 from April 1 through June 30 from the political action committees, employees and lobbyists of for-profit schools for his reelection campaign and his leadership PAC. That’s nearly one-quarter of his total receipts and up from $20,700 that the industry gave to Kline during the first three months of the year.

According to Kline’s spokeswoman Alexandra Sollberger, Kline’s interest in easing the regulatory burdens carried by institutions of higher education is not limited to for-profits. She pointed to two other bills submitted by Kline that would have done away with a substantial part of the Department of Education’s college regulatory framework. Two years ago, Kline delivered a speech on the floor of the House saying that although he supported efforts to make colleges more accountable to their students, administration efforts were actually limiting students’ choices.

This year, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would make another attempt to write gainful employment rules, setting off alarms in the industry. The rules apply to programs at any school — from for-profit universities to government-funded community colleges — that aim to prepare students for careers.

The bill the House Education Committee will consider Wednesday prohibits the agency from moving forward on creating new gainful employment rules. It also seeks to block federal action on several other controversial measures, including requiring career-college programs to disclose students’ graduation rates and median student-debt load. Another part of the bill would ban attempts to require colleges offering online programs to students in other states to seek approval to operate in those states.

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