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Robert Shireman
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Robert Shireman is a senior fellow at The Century Foundation working on education policy with a focus on for-profit college accountability, quality assurance, and consumer protections. He served in the Clinton White House as a Senior Policy Advisor to the National Economic Council and later for the Obama Administration as deputy undersecretary in the Department of Education.

Since his first education policy job in 1989, Shireman has played key roles in a wide variety of higher education finance, access, quality, and governance issues. He shepherded the evolution of the nation’s income-based student loan repayment system from its initial adoption in 1992 to its expansion and improvement by President Barack Obama. He organized the federal response to emerging signs of predatory for-profit career training in 2009, leading to a widely discussed set of regulatory reforms and enforcement actions. Shireman’s analysis of local needs in California prompted changes in the funding formula for that state’s community colleges and he worked to improve the ethnic and economic diversity of California’s private colleges. He led an effort that significantly simplified the process of applying for federal college aid and pressed for and ultimately won the elimination of costly middlemen from the federal loan programs so that more grant aid could be made available to low-income students.

Working inside and outside of government, in California and in Washington, D.C., Shireman’s successes earned him Money magazine “money hero” status for his work on college affordability. For his battles with banks and other special interests, the public interest law firm Public Advocates honored him with a Voice of Conscience award. Currently, in addition to being a part of The Century Foundation’s education team, Shireman serves on the board of uAspire, a national nonprofit that helps low-income students find quality, affordable college options.

He holds a Bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of California at Berkeley, a Master’s in Education from Harvard, and a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of San Francisco.

Entries by Robert Shireman

Ben Carson and West Point's "Full Scholarship"

(183) Comments | Posted November 7, 2015 | 1:49 PM

In the kerfuffle over presidential candidate Ben Carson's claim that he was admitted to West Point, the news media have pointed out that the "full scholarship" part of his story adds even more confusion because, as the New York Times story today put it, "Technically, West Point does...

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Help for Corinthian Victims in California Governor's Hands

(0) Comments | Posted September 25, 2015 | 2:02 AM

[Update: On October 8, 2015, Governor Brown vetoed the legislation that would have provided support for nonprofit legal assistance to Corinthian victims.]

When now-Governor Jerry Brown was serving as California's attorney general in 2007, he reached a legal settlement with Corinthian Colleges, a chain of for-profit...

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I'll Have My Beer For-Profit, Please

(0) Comments | Posted June 23, 2015 | 4:20 PM


I was in northeast Portland over the weekend and decided to stop in at a brewery that Yelp users said not only had good beer but "it's a nonprofit too!" I assumed they just misinterpreted the brewpub's joke about its inadequate revenue. But...

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Behind the Fraud Charges Against ITT Education

(9) Comments | Posted May 13, 2015 | 2:24 PM


The Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday announced fraud charges against ITT Education Services, a for-profit company that operates career training schools. The SEC alleges that ITT executives engaged in a scheme to hide looming losses from loans the company guaranteed to...

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In Stock Plunge Coverage, an Illuminating Mistake

(1) Comments | Posted May 11, 2015 | 4:58 PM


For-profit schools have not been faring too well on Wall Street lately. The stock price of Apollo Group, the owner of the University of Phoenix, has dropped by 80 percent from its peak. Career Education Corporation is also down 80 percent; ITT Education,...

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College Owner: Greed Is Good

(5) Comments | Posted March 4, 2015 | 8:53 AM

In an article this week, New York Times reporter Patricia Cohen described how Arthur Keiser, the owner of colleges in Florida, is using a nonprofit shell corporation to evade consumer protection laws while drawing millions of federal financial aid dollars....

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A Nonprofit That Isn't

(0) Comments | Posted March 3, 2015 | 5:06 PM

We all know from watching the real-life stories of gangsters and cheats that it is often the paperwork that gets them in the end. They are put away for tax fraud or mail fraud, or fined for not including their ill-begotten gains on required financial disclosure forms. To avoid this...

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In Defense of the College Graduation Rate

(1) Comments | Posted October 24, 2014 | 1:18 PM

The way college graduation rates are measured is not perfect. But the claim that colleges enrolling a lot of part-time students are treated unfairly because these students are "overlooked" or "left out," as a recent article claimed, is pure bunk. The erroneous claim is not new. Officials at...

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Don't Ask About Your Kids' Grades in College

(10) Comments | Posted October 23, 2014 | 12:10 AM

One of the most useful tools we had while our kids were in middle and high school was the online access to their grades. On a daily basis, we could check to make sure they were turning in their assignments or if their study methods had paid off on the...

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How Not to Help Grads With Student Loans

(5) Comments | Posted October 13, 2014 | 11:40 AM


Four months after my niece's graduation party, she got an email with a subject line indicating that she would soon need to start making payments on her student loans. Employed only part time and sharing a room in a small apartment to keep...

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What Would You Change at the University?

(0) Comments | Posted September 10, 2014 | 4:20 PM

Governor Jerry Brown wants California's colleges and universities to do a better job getting students to graduation, and he wants it done without spending more. To entice college leaders along this efficiency path the governor has taken the unusual tack of offering...

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The Important Difference Between For-profit and Nonprofit Colleges

(2) Comments | Posted July 17, 2014 | 3:42 PM

I am sympathetic to the instinct to ignore the question of whether a college is accountable to owners (for-profit), or, alternatively, is answerable to a financially disinterested board (nonprofit or public). While there is a higher incidence of problematic behavior at for-profit colleges, there are also nonprofit and public institutions...

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For-Profit Colleges and the Washington Post

(0) Comments | Posted May 5, 2014 | 2:30 PM

Last month the newspaper that in 1974 launched my teenage interest in journalism as a route to justice and truth got into a tussle with the U.S. Department of Education over some data on college graduates' earnings. That debate was expertly dissected by Ben Miller at the New...

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Preparing California's Teachers: Is U.C. Doing Its Part?

(0) Comments | Posted February 10, 2014 | 10:38 AM

California's 1960 Master Plan famously carved out specific niches for each of the three public higher education segments. Top high school graduates were to be steered to the University of California's (now) nine undergraduate campuses where they would learn from "teacher-scholars" who are preeminent researchers in their fields. The next...

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Diversity, Napolitano, and the University of California

(2) Comments | Posted January 22, 2014 | 1:22 PM

Last week I had the privilege of joining President Obama and the first lady at a White House summit designed to spur efforts to make sure that higher education serves as an engine of upward mobility rather than a replicator of inequality. One hundred college presidents came with...

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How Much Is College Worth? A Brainstorming Exercise

(3) Comments | Posted December 11, 2013 | 11:30 AM

To the extent that college is aimed at preparing people for careers, its monetary value can be estimated by comparing a graduate's projected future earnings to the wages of a worker with a high school diploma. But most people acknowledge that the traditional undergraduate experience is designed to do something...

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Vision and Mission at Community Colleges

(0) Comments | Posted November 3, 2013 | 5:59 PM

For the past quarter century I have been one of those policy wonks trying to figure out how to judge whether a college is doing a good job. People who work at colleges, especially the faculty, tend to be annoyed by those of us who ask about effectiveness, because it...

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Billboards That Do Damage

(2) Comments | Posted September 24, 2013 | 5:18 PM

2013-09-22-Loomingdropouts.jpgThe blood-red billboard pictured here looms ominously over a busy thoroughfare in a troubled neighborhood near my office in Oakland, California. A creation of the Ad Council, which links advertising firms with charities to create campaigns designed to address social issues, this ad...

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San Francisco Mayor's Opportunity to Create a New City University

(0) Comments | Posted August 6, 2013 | 3:42 PM

With all of the attention on the infighting and poor management at City College of San Francisco, city residents could be excused for forgetting that San Francisco has another large public institution serving undergraduate students. Toiling quietly amid the hullabaloo has been San Francisco State University, under the leadership of...

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What the Jane Fonda Fitness Revolution Tells Us About Success in College

(0) Comments | Posted July 24, 2013 | 5:01 PM

Every time I hear about the online revolution that is occurring in higher education, I have a vision of the family room in my parents' home in the suburbs in the 1980s. There, underneath the television, was the remarkable technological innovation of its day, the VCR. And sitting on top...

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