A new video from group of young activists warns of Mitt Romney's connections to for-profit colleges, hoping to raise awareness of how the Republican presidential nominee might govern the controversial for-profit education sector. The video shows Romney talking about college affordability and insists the candidate is "sketchy" about for-profits.
The Student Debt Crisis Campaign, a group that includes activists involved in the Occupy Colleges and Occupy Student Debt movements, posted the video on YouTube last week. Two of the video's creators, Natalia Abrams and Kyle McCarthy, told The Huffington Post they're worried Romney's ties to for-profit colleges mean he would roll back some of the progress made to rein in the industry's abuses.
"Our fear is that he will favor for-profit colleges over traditional institutions, making a bad situation even worse," Abrams and McCarthy said in an email. "He has clearly stated that he wants to reintroduce the banks as lenders and that he doesn't believe in using the government to subsidize higher education, and his biggest fundraisers are from for-profit colleges."
Romney is the top recipient of donations from student lenders of all candidates for federal office, and he has several connections to for-profit colleges. His campaign and a Romney-aligned super PAC received a combined $240,000 from Bill Heavener, CEO of Full Sail, and from C. Kevin Landry, chairman of TA Associates, the private equity firm that owns Full Sail and Vatterott College, a troubled for-profit. Romney also received campaign contributions from the Apollo Group, owner of the largest for-profit education business, the University of Phoenix.
For-profit colleges have been widely criticized for leaving students and graduates with staggering amounts of debt while the schools have collected $32 billion from the federal government through programs like Pell Grants. Investigations by the Senate and Government Accountability Office revealed the schools often engage in deceptive and predatory recruitment practices and spend more money on marketing than instruction.
In response, for-profits have spent nearly $40 million to lobby against any new regulations on their industry.
Many observers believe a Romney administration would be friendly to the for-profit higher education industry. Romney has pledged to roll back regulations imposed under President Obama's administration meant to hold for-profits accountable for fraud, waste and abuse.
McCarthy said he'd rather see third-party candidates who endorse free higher education, like Jill Stein and Rocky Anderson, elected to office. But given the "real" options, "Obama is by far the better choice for education," he said.
"We believe Obama personally has seemed to take a tough stance on for-profits. However, he hasn't done nearly enough legislatively to end financial aid for for-profit colleges that are obviously fraudulent," Abrams said. "Our current Congress is partly to blame for this, which is why we think that four more years of Obama fighting for students will give them a better chance than a Romney presidency."
Also on HuffPost:
In 2008, lobbyists raised just about $4 million for for-profit education.
In 2009, lobbying stayed roughly the same, at about $3.3 million dollars.
In 2010, the Obama administration cracked down on for-profit colleges, triggering a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/03/auction-2012-education-for-profit-colleges_n_1251072.html" target="_hplink">massive lobbying blitz</a>.
2011 was the site of even more lobbying for the for-profit college industrial-complex, about $14 million dollars worth. The result? A watered-down Department of Education policy for the burgeoning industry, which largely <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/02/for-profit-college-regulations-obama-administration_n_870085.html" target="_hplink">protected its federal aid</a>.
2012 isn't over yet, but lobbyists have already raised almost $6 million dollars to further for-profit interests. Key parts of the Department of Education's for-profit regulation has been <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/01/for-profit-college-federal-judge-ruling_n_1641662.html" target="_hplink">struck down</a> in federal court.