Speaking at the American Legion convention in Charlotte Tuesday, President Obama pledged, "For veterans going back to school under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, we'll keep standing up against dishonest recruiting and predatory practices that target and prey on you and your families." The president has made clear that he understands the scam perpetrated by many for-profit colleges against our vets, against single mothers, against working-class young people of color -- deceptive recruiting, high prices, poor quality, weak job placement.
Yet the big for-profit college companies keep spending millions to lobby aggressively against a proposed federal rule, called gainful employment, that would hold career training programs accountable for such abuses -- for taking our tax dollars and consistently leaving students with debt they cannot repay. They are pressuring the White House to back down, in part by threatening a lawsuit to have a federal court nullify the rule, as a judge did in 2011 on narrow grounds.
These wealthy companies keep acting to shield such bad behavior even as more and more evidence surfaces that for-profit colleges are ripping off students. Now that giant Corinthian Colleges, which was taking in as much as $1.4 billion a year in taxpayer dollars, is collapsing under the weight of law enforcement probes and bad student outcomes, the rest of the industry, and the industry's paid friends in Congress, have thrown Corinthian Colleges under the bus, not offering a word in the company's defense. They are now making the argument that their former pal Corinthian was a bad apple, but that the rest of the fruit in the orchard must be allowed to grow unimpeded. In fact, however, there are plenty of for-profit colleges still out there that seem less like apples and more like fertilizer.
There are now dozens of federal and state law enforcement investigations against some of the biggest for-profit college companies, including EDMC, ITT, Career Education Corp., DeVry, Bridgepoint, and the University of Phoenix. And every day we hear about more troubling for-profit schools and more abused students:
- More than 50 FBI agents yesterday executed search warrants at two campuses of El Paso-based Anamarc College, as well as the home of the school's owner / operators, Ana Maria Piña Houde and Marc Houde, who modestly named the school after themselves. "Numerous boxes of evidence were recovered," and FBI spokesman told the media. "No arrests. It's an ongoing investigation." The college closed in June, mid-semester, abruptly locking out the school's hundreds of students and putting their futures in doubt. "It's absurd and it's hurtful in ways I can't even explain to you," nursing student Anastasia Rivers told KFOX-TV at the time.
- Education Training Corp., owner of Anthem College and Florida Career College, has been shutting down campuses around the country in recent days and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy over the weekend, leaving thousands of students stranded. "All I can say is help us," Anthem student Bettie Hickman in Memphis told WREG TV. The FBI raided Florida Career College back in 2007.
- A Missouri state appeals court on Tuesday upheld a jury's $2 million punitive damage award against Vatterott College for deceiving single mother Jennifer Kerr, charging her $27,000 for a program they told her was a medical assistant course that would put her on the fast track to being a nurse, when in fact it was a course that only gave her a basically pointless credential to be a "medical office assistant." Kerr told the Kansas City Star that, after leaving Vatterott, "for a long time, I was just devastated and depressed. The diploma I got was worthless." Vatterott was the college that Ferguson, Missouri's Michael Brown was about to attend before he was killed; the school has a record of deceiving students and leaving them worse off than when they started.
- Steve Hirst, who taught at ASA College, published yesterday a heartbreaking account of life at the school's Manhattan campus. He says the school charges too much, makes false promises, routinely permits students to cheat on exams, and leaves many graduates with no jobs other than temporary positions hustling on the street outside the school, trying to entice more people to enroll. The school posted a response denying Hirst's charges. ASA is a member of APSCU, the for-profit college trade association that is leading the charge against the gainful employment rule.
Follow David Halperin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DHalpDC