For-profit schools hit back as ED finalizes regulations

Duncan has received a series of letters from members of Congress opposing a for-profit crackdown.
Duncan has received a series of letters from members of Congress who oppose a for-profit crackdown.

The U.S. Education Department (ED) will take longer than expected to formulate new regulations for for-profit colleges, and private-sector school officials expect about 1,000 students to speak out against the government’s measures at a rally planned for Sept. 29 in Washington, D.C.

For-profit colleges have campaigned hard against the “gainful employment” rule, which would cut off federal aid to college vocational programs with high student debt levels and poor loan repayment rates. They’ve lobbied Congress, purchased newspaper ads, and helped students and others register complaints with ED.

The government was to publish its final rules by Nov. 1, but ED officials announced a new timeline on Sept. 24, saying sections of the plan would be ready by Nov. 1 and the remaining portions will be published in early 2011.

ED’s delay on the new regulations comes just two weeks after a report that showed for-profit lobbying has skyrocketed since Education Secretary Arne Duncan first criticized some industry colleges of unseemly practices that required tougher government oversight, as first reported Sept. 17 by the journalistic nonprofit group ProPublica.

Members of Congress who signed three letters expressing “serious concern” with Duncan’s proposals received more than $90,000 from the for-profit industry during the first seven months of 2010, according to online campaign contribution records.

Students from for-profit colleges and universities will join officials from those schools this week to protest ED’s regulations during a rally at the U.S. Capitol, organized by the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU).

“Many are concerned about the current negative environment in Washington regarding private-sector colleges and universities and want to show their support for the education that they’ve received and how it will contribute to their long-term career success,” APSCU said in a statement. “They oppose policies that limit choice and diminish the value of their postsecondary educations.”

Rally attendees will include APSCU President Harris Miller and Arthur Keiser, chancellor of Keiser University, a family-owned chain of 13 campuses across Florida.

Legislators who signed the letters received contributions from political action committees representing DeVry Inc., the Career Education Corporation, the Career College Association, and Corinthian Colleges Inc., among other for-profit education companies, according to public records.

Keiser from Keiser University also is listed as a main contributor to signers of the letters to Duncan.

ED said it was taking more time to consider comments—it received about 91,000 during a 90-day comment period, a record for a proposed higher-education regulation—and hold several meetings and public hearings in the coming weeks. The department said the schedule allows it to stick to its plan for the rules to go into effect around July 1, 2012.

“Let me be clear: We’re moving forward on gainful employment regulations,” Duncan said in a statement. “While a majority of career colleges play a vital role in training our workforce to be globally competitive, some bad actors are saddling students with debt they cannot afford in exchange for degrees and certificates they cannot use.”

Duncan said additional feedback would help the department strike “the right balance” between holding the programs accountable to protect students and taxpayers and “making sure we keep whole those programs that are doing a good job.”

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