For-profit colleges have enjoyed relative peace under the Trump administration, but a potential Biden presidency has sent them scrambling. According to Inside Higher Ed, for-profit colleges are fearful of the return of Obama-era regulations if the Biden-Harris ticket wins the 2020 presidential election.
Steve Gunderson, CEO of Career Education Colleges and Universities, expressed his serious concerns about the future of the industry under a Biden-Harris administration. Gunderson represents the industry group for for-profit colleges.
“It’s alarming,” he told Inside Higher Ed, due to the potential return of rules such as “gainful-employment” that targeted for-profits while excluding non-profit and state universities. This specific rule required for-profits to demonstrate that their degrees will lead to jobs for their graduates and not saddle them with student debt, but did not hold other types of higher education institutions to the same standard. Betsy DeVos, the Department of Education secretary under Trump, repealed the rule.
“Some Democrats believe in defunding the whole sector,” Gunderson warned. He pointed to several Democratic lawmakers, such as Rep. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) and Senator Sherrod Brown (Ohio), and their push to pass legislation that would prevent or exclude for-profits from receiving federal grants or student loans.
Inside Higher Ed pointed out that those with a stake in for-profit colleges have donated to Republican causes. The CEO of Keiser University, Arthur Keiser, has donated $1,517 to Republican senators such as Susan Collins (Maine), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Joni Ernst (Iowa), and Martha McSally (Ariz.). These senators are in tough re-election races this election cycle and their loss will most likely swing the balance of the Senate to a Democratic majority. Keiser said that he has also donated $5,000 in 2019 to Democratic congressman Alcee Hastings (Fla.), who represents the area where Keiser University is located.
The Career Education Colleges and Universities’ political action committee donated $15,000 to the National Republican Campaign Committee, and Pima Medical Institute’s chairman Richard Luebke donated $25,000 to McSally’s political action committee Defend America.
Keiser noted that for-profit colleges get the brunt of the blame when it comes to America’s student loan debt problem, but correctly pointed out that community colleges are also to blame. For example, the six-year graduation rates for community colleges are far from stellar and yet they receive federal and state funding despite their failures. The Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank, cited an academic study which found that “fewer than 40 percent of community college students earn a certificate or degree within six years of enrollment.”
What goes unsaid is that private non-profit and state universities also contribute significantly to student loan debt. With tuition rates soaring above the median salary of an average American, American college students have graduated from college burdened with tens of thousands of student loan debt. In some cases private non-profit college graduates leave their alma mater with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.