With Gainful Employment Rule on the Horizon, Supporters (and Opponents) Step Up the Fight
With the gainful employment rule set to be released any day now, Senate leaders and student champions Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) took to the Senate floor last night to deliver an impassioned discussion of the ways the worst actors in the for-profit college industry are preying on students and ripping off taxpayers. Senator Harkin spent a good deal of time discussing specifically the long and storied history some schools have of going after veterans, lying about how much of their educational costs would be covered by the GI Bill and pocketing government money while students are floundering in debt. Harkin summarized the problem in a statement released last night:
“I am deeply concerned, as all my colleagues should be, that Congress may have unintentionally created an opening for the current generation of veterans and active-duty service members to be victimized by these abuses because of their eligibility for federal benefits…With their eyes on their 90/10 ratio, for-profit schools have moved aggressively to exploit the business opportunity. They have created marketing plans and a sales force specifically designed to target and enroll as many veterans, service members and family members as possible.”
One veteran story Harkin mentioned specifically was that of Adam Gonyea, a former aircraft electrician in the Navy who wrote a letter to the Senator expressing that he received a poor-quality education and mistreatment from an ITT Tech branch in Virginia. “The financial aid administrators at ITT seemed very skilled in finding funds for my education, including grants and scholarships and even completed all of the paperwork for my G.I. Bill benefits. Unfortunately the bills started to come,” Gonyea told Campus Progress in February. “The expensive tuition did not seem to go toward a quality education. I saw very little of the school’s income go to staff or equipment.”
Harkin also relayed a heart-wrenching story sent to him by the mother of a veteran with PTSD and traumatic brain injury who feels that a recruiter for ITT Tech took advantage of her son’s impairments in order to rope him into enrolling. Unable to retain the material, the stress of the experience led to him dropping out of school with a mountain of debt and little education. As the student’s mother said in her testimony, “My son is a proud, young man. He is not looking for pity or charity. He is embarrassed that he believed what he was told by the ITT Rep.”
In the meantime, with time running out to block regulations, lobbyists for the for-profit industry continue to throw anything at the wall to see what sticks. Some of these tactics include their continued efforts to conflate the Department of Education’s creation of the gainful employment rule with the motives of short-seller Steve Eisman, and misleading messages warning of damaging impact the rule would have on low income and minority students
These disingenuous arguments are nothing new, but now the messengers themselves have come under scrutiny. The motives of one such group, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, have been called to question, as they have a history of defending industries that give them tens of thousands of dollars each year – such as big oil and tobacco – rather than the communities they purportedly serve. Lately, the NBCC has been an outspoken defender of for-profit schools, and even held a press conference earlier this month announcing that that “a minority impact assessment” must be issued before the gainful employment rule is finalized. They also recently retained controversial former for-profit college lobbyist Lanny Davis to work with them to stop the gainful employment rule.
Of course, as we have reported many times over, minority students are actually the group with the most to gain from proposed regulations, which is why organizations representing these communities, including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NAACP, National Council of La Raza, and many others have written letters and continually called on the Administration to issue a strong regulation [PDF].
We’ll be keeping a close eye on developments on the gainful employment rule, so be sure to check back often for the latest.
Katie is the Communications and Outreach Manager for Campus Progress.
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