New Internal Documents Reveal For-Profit Colleges’ Lobbying, Rebranding Efforts
A couple of new, internal documents released over the past week detail efforts by the largest for-profit college trade association to use lobbying to help deter increased regulations and to rebrand their sector in a positive light despite many schools’ poor performance.
The documents, published by the Republic Report, come from the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, which represents schools like Kaplan, DeVry, and the Art Institutes. The most revealing is a six-page internal memo detailing the group’s “100 Day Plan” following then-APSCU CEO Harris Miller’s resignation. (After making this offensive video invitation.)
Republic Report’s David Halperin, the founder of Campus Progress, notes that the document reveals:
- The group’s strategy for passage of key bills in Congress was “directed by” the “House Republican leadership.”
- APSCU appeared to closely integrate its efforts to get favorable votes in Congress with its political strategy of donating to Senate and House candidates and influencing elections — a clear, and troubling, illustration of how the wealthy for-profit education industry uses its financial muscle to avoid federal accountability, despite overwhelming evidence that many schools in the sector engage in waste, fraud, and abuse with taxpayer money.
- Faced with a significant effort by Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway to investigate abuses by for-profit schools, APSCU planned to “seek opportunities to isolate Conway efforts” from other state attorneys general.
A source with internal knowledge of APSCU and the documents confirmed their authenticity to Republic Report, and the document shows some senior-level staff edited this version. Brian Moran, who was interim president at the time of memo’s creation, and others from the trade group did not return Halperin’s calls to discuss the document. The full version is here:
Additionally, the 100-day memo highlights efforts to push back against regulations proposed by the Obama Administration; outreach to state attorneys general, who were investigating the sector; and legislative strategies from the group’s political action committee, which appear closely tied to the work of the trade group itself. At several points, the memo notes that certain actions were conducted “as directed by House Republican leadership.”
It also states that APSCU would seek to “isolate” Kentucky AG Conway, who is leading the bipartisan group of attorneys general investigating industry behavior. (One item on the memo’s agenda was the upcoming July 2011 Conference of Western Attorneys General in Hawaii, where in fact there was a panel favorable to the for-profit colleges; while the panel moderator was Iowa AG Tom Miller, who is one those investigating for-profit schools, all three panelists were representatives of the industry.)
The other leaked document, a PowerPoint presentation on an effort called “Project Rose,” highlights the group’s strategy to change “the vernacular of our sector,” by shifting terms to be more positive and less corporate business-like. (Examples include the discontinuation of “piece of business” as a term for prospective students. As Halperin notes, “applicant,” the group’s suggested alternative, sounds much better.) This presentation also received coverage in the Chronicle of Higher Education last week. You can watch it here.
These documents are troubling, as the for-profit sector has a history of leaving students with massive amounts of student debt but few real job opportunities. Such colleges and universities account for nearly half of all student loan defaults, but serve less than one-sixth of American students. And efforts to lobby Congress and attorneys general to avoid regulations but keep federal dollars flowing into their branches is disturbing not only because of their poor job of educating students but because many receive as much as 90 percent of their income from federal aid.
Brian Stewart is the communications manager at Campus Progress.
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