“What academia does is educate the elites in our society,” he said. “And they were the first to fall. … We saw this domino effect.”

Federal regulations known as “gainful employment” rules pit the Obama administration in a nearly three-year fight with lobbyists for the for-profit college industry. Officials from the private education sector argued that their colleges served many low-income students who were more likely to default on massive school loans.

The political battle waged between the White House and the for-profit sector set the stage for a prominent role for the industry in the 2012 election.

Romney has mentioned the 15,000-student Full Sail by name several times on the campaign trail during the fall and winter, saying the university was able to “hold down the cost of education” and serve as an example of how competition can improve higher education.

Twelve percent of students attend for-profit institutions, but the industry is responsible for about 45 percent of the nation’s student loan debt, according to federal statistics.

Romney’s high esteem for Full Sail also coincides with campaign contributions from the university’s CEO, Bill Heavener, who gave the maximum $2,500 to Romney’s campaign and another $45,000 to a so-called “super PAC” that supports Romney for president and is run by aides to the former governor, as first reported by the New York Times.

Full Sail’s video game arts program, for instance, saw 14 percent of its students graduate last year. A degree in video game arts would cost $81,000. While other Full Sail programs have higher completion rates, all of its programs are many times more expensive than nonprofit and public universities.

Dissatisfaction with Full Sail sparked a website called Full Sail Review, which seeks to advise prospective students before they commit to attending the for-profit university.

The site rails against the school for deceptive recruitment practices and the poor quality of Full Sail’s online course selection, among other complaints.


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