Last week, U. S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing on for-profit institutions. The perceived problem? A government-sponsored report on post-secondary education found that “only 16 percent of community college students borrow money; 95 percent of [students at] the for-profits borrow money and they borrow money at a higher amount than they do at the community colleges.” To Sen. Harkin, this is a problem. He stated at the end of the hearing: “Students are taking on too much debt, defaults are too high and students are having too much difficulty finding jobs or even completing their program of study.”
What Sen. Harkin fails to note is that, although students in for-profits are heavily dependent on federal aid, the schools themselves are not, in stark comparison to their non-profit peers. The Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CAP) found that direct government grants make up less than 10 percent of revenue for for-profits.
These schools also operate at a much lower overhead, the CAP study shows. Moreover, although for-profits make up 40 percent of schools, they account for more like 2 percent of students but the number enrolled in them has doubled over the past decade.
On Wednesday of that week, according to the New York Times, hundreds of students from for-profit colleges showed up at the Capitol to let the Senate know how they feel about the issue. They wore matching T-shirts reading “My education. My job. My choice.” It is not known if Sen. Harkin saw them or, if he did, understood where they were literally coming from.
Also left unclear is whether Sen. Harkin plans to focus any of his trademark ire on the proportionally greater waste in the world of nonprofit education.
Allie Duzett is the Director of Strategic Operations for Accuracy in Media, Accuracy in Academia’s big sister group.
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