The Obama administration is taking action to hold accountable for-profit colleges that prey on low-income students. But some Democrats in Congress — including several members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) — are siding with Republicans to block the administration's efforts.
Hundreds of thousands of people go into debt every year enrolling in for-profit higher education programs like DeVry and Argosy — sold on the idea that they'll graduate with skills that will lead to opportunity and a better life. In reality, many come out with a mountain of debt they can't pay back and no better prospects at employment.
Thankfully, the Department of Education is preparing to stop federal financial aid from going to higher ed programs that don"t actually help students get jobs and pay off their debt. Not surprisingly, the industry is fighting back hard, despite its atrocious record: their students make up 10% of those in higher ed but 40% of students who stop making payments on their loans.
Now, the for-profit college industry has help from a handful of Democrats, including CBC members Reps. Alcee Hastings, Donald Payne, Ed Towns, Andre Carson, Bobby Scott, and Charlie Rangel. These Reps. are preparing to vote on an amendment that would make it impossible for the Department of Education to regulate this industry the way it wants to. And they're pushing their colleagues in the CBC to vote with them.
This is what one CBC staffer had to say about it:
"It's disgusting to see Democrats, especially members of the CBC, actively shilling for an industry that disproportionately preys on low-income and minority students."
We couldn't agree more. Thankfully, the Obama administration is fighting back:
More than 26,000 ColorOfChange members have spoken out in support of what the Department of Education is trying to do, and called on Congress to support it as well.
The administration, through the Department of Education, is advising Democratic supporters, particularly in the CBC to back off.
"The rule will protect students at for-profit colleges -- who are disproportionately black, Hispanic and low-income -- from poor quality programs that leave students with very high debts and poor employment prospects," reads an internal email from the Department of Education to members of the CBC. "Contrary to industry rhetoric, no students would lose access to college: they could continue to be able to choose from tens of thousands of post-secondary programs... Congress should not tie the hands of the department before even seeing the final rule. Such action would deprive everyone from seeing how the final standards will protect vulnerable students and their families, as well as taxpayers."
For many Americans, for-profit colleges seem like a quick, flexible way to get ahead. They promise low-income folks the job training it takes to escape poverty. But the schools often leave people deep in debt and with credentials that employers don't take seriously. Students think they're doing what it takes to escape minimum wage jobs. They're actually getting deeper into financial trouble.
It's an issue that disproportionately affects cash-strapped Black folks who work long hours and for whom higher education at public universities or private, non-profit colleges feels impossible. A quarter of Black Americans with associate degrees get them from for-profit colleges, and 40% of these schools' alumni are people of color.
When Black folks decide to pursue post-secondary schooling, we're often the first in our families to do so. And we typically have to navigate a complex process on our own and with limited information. For-profit colleges have been caught preying on this fact — misleading students, using deceptive practices, and even encouraging applicants to enter false information on their financial aid forms. Statistics show that people who enroll at for-profit schools are much less able to manage their debt than those who go to non-profit schools.
Civil Rights organizations (including NAACP, Rainbow PUSH, the United Negro College Fund, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, LULAC, National Council of La Raza and United States Hispanic Leadership Institute) are united in supporting the Department of Education's effort to rein in this industry. And Reps. Gwen Moore and Maxine Waters also deserve our thanks for pushing their colleagues to get on the right side of this issue.
But we expect better from Reps. Hastings, Payne, Towns, Carson, Scott, and Rangel. They need to know that we're watching, and we'll hold them accountable for their efforts to protect this predatory industry from regulation.