Liberal activists: For-profit colleges ‘ripping off’ students, taxpayers

About 1,000 young people attended the annual Campus Progress conference.

In a speech at the Campus Progress National Conference July 6, an official from a left-leaning think tank condemned for-profit colleges—many of which are the nation’s largest online education providers—as ineffective and financially crippling for students.

Campus Progress, the youth branch of the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank based in Washington, D.C., held its annual conference last week.

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The conference was attended by more than 1,000 young people and hosted guest speakers that included former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

Campus Progress describes itself as an organization encouraging youth to embrace progressive values and providing training for political activism. Campus Progress and its partners have long kept watch on for-profit college regulations.

Immediately after the Department of Education (ED) passed new regulations requiring for-profit colleges to yield “gainful employment,” Center for American Progress policy analyst Julie Morgan published an article that called the rule a “step in the right direction,” but criticized the rule’s “three strikes” provision as too lax.

“There’s overwhelming evidence that [for-profit colleges] are abusing taxpayer money with high-priced, low-quality programs that leave many students deep in debt, their lives nearly ruined,” said David Halperin, director of Campus Progress.

A brief video preceding Halperin’s speech highlighted Campus Progress’s key interests, particularly advocating for affordable education.

“America can’t afford another sub-prime debt crisis. That’s why leading nonprofit and consumer groups want to curb the worst of for-profit colleges, like deceptive recruiting, fraudulent reporting, high prices, and dismal job placement,” a female voice intoned on the video.

The video also included a clip from the Fox Business Show “The Willis Report,” on which Halperin was a guest on June 3. Host Gerry Willis asked, “It looks like these for-profit colleges, they’re really ripping off the taxpayer.  What’s going on here?”

“They’re ripping off the taxpayer, but even worse, they’re ripping off students and ruining their lives,” Halperin answered.

In the full video, Willis goes on to share ED statistics: For-profit school students make up 10 percent of total higher education students and receive 20 percent of federal aid.

These students are responsible for 46 percent of loan defaults.

Referencing these statistics both in the video and in his speech, Halperin accused for-profit schools of failing to help graduates find jobs and charging excessively high tuition so that students are saddled with debt long after graduation.

Halperin called for-profit colleges “yet another example of cynical power” wielded by “corporate interests.” Campus Progress had previously scrutinized defenders of for-profit colleges, such as Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), for financial ties to for-profit institutions.

“Their reckless behavior risks a new subprime debt crisis, yet the corporations that run these schools have spent millions trying to avoid accountability,” Halperin said.

“The new gainful employment rule is a step toward holding colleges accountable for how they serve both students and the public. But the longer it takes to eliminate the worst career-education programs, the more students end up mired in debt and without a way to climb out,” wrote Morgan, a policy analyst for the Center for American Progress.

On June 14, Campus Progress joined 36 other groups, including the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, in signing a letter to the Senate that opposed attempts to nullify the gainful employment rule.

“Given the overwhelming evidence that the worst career colleges are taking unfair advantage of students and wasting taxpayer funds…we need to do more, not less, to protect students and taxpayers,” the letter said.

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