When reporters in Iowa asked Mitt Romney last fall what he planned to do about higher education in America, he praised by name Florida's Full Sail University and the University of Phoenix, and for-profit colleges in general, which he said used innovative strategies to "hold down the cost of their education." Romney said, "You are going to find students, saying 'You know what? That's not a bad deal. I'm not willing to come out of college with $100,000 in debt.'" But newly released information reaffirms how wrong -- factually and morally -- Romney's assertion was.
1. This week, the Department of Education launched a new College Affordability & Transparency Center website that allows you to compare costs at various schools. Of all the hundreds of for-profit colleges in America, Full Sail has the third highest net price -- the average price students will pay for tuition and other college expenses after subtracting scholarships and government grants. Full Sail's net price is $42,809 -- according to the data, more than any non-profit or public college. In that light -- Full Sail may be the third most expensive college in our nation -- Romney's assertion that Full Sail keeps costs down is nothing short of astonishing. And Full Sail has at best a mixed record in training students for productive careers. Many attendees and observers say the instruction at Full Sail is of poor quality, and one if its programs boasts a 14 percent on-time graduation rate.
2. The latest data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics shows that within the for-profit education sector, the second biggest donor to candidates for federal office, political parties, and outside groups in the 2012 election cycle -- second only to gargantuan Apollo Group ($395,000), owner of University of Phoenix -- is, you guessed it, that highly affordable Full Sail University ($295,000). Much of that money went to, again maybe you guessed it, Mitt Romney. Full Sail's CEO Bill Heavener has donated at least $85,000 to the Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future and also is a key Romney campaign fundraiser. C. Kevin Landry, a senior executive at the private equity firm TA Associates, which owns part of Full Sail, has given $120,000 to that Romney Super PAC. When Romney spoke in Iowa (watch the video below), he said, "I was at a place in Florida called Full Sail University," as if he just happened to stop by, when almost certainly he was there because it was owned by his big donors. Apollo Group, owner of the other school Romney praised by name, also has given at least $75,000 to Restore Our Future, as well as $5000 to the Romney campaign.
But the story is even worse. As we've reported, the private equity fund Solamere Capital, run by Mitt Romney's son Tagg and Spencer Zwick, who also serves as the top fundraiser on the Romney campaign staff, was launched with a $10 million investment from Mitt Romney. Solamere Capital offered its clients a stake in TA Associates, which owns not just Full Sail but a number of for-profit schools, including troubled Vatterott Colleges, marked by abusive recruiting practices and high student loan defaults.
When Romney released his education plan last month it was consistent with his earlier false assertion that Full Sail and other for-profits are a great deal for students: He proposed to rescind the reforms undertaken by the Obama administration to protect students and taxpayers from waste, fraud, and abuse by the for-profit college industry. This Romney policy would allow federal financial aid -- presently about $32 billion a year -- to continue to flow to even the worst offenders in the industry, schools that lure veterans and low-income students with deceptive and coercive recruiting practices, provide low-quality programs, and leave many students with insurmountable debt and ruined lives.
This is about as cynical as politics can get -- telling voters complete falsehoods in pursuit of policies that help your donors and business associates, while abusing struggling students and fleecing the taxpayers.
Watch Mitt Romney, last fall in Iowa, praise Full Sail University and other for-profit colleges as an affordable alternative to traditional colleges, even though that's not true:
The original version of this article appeared on Republic Report.