“I can assure you that this committee will be exploring legislative changes.” That statement came from Sen. Tom Harkin (IA), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee at the end of the third hearing on for-profit colleges that took place this morning.
Today’s hearing had elements of theater and the most sharply-divided partisan politics to date. Senators Enzi, McCain, and Burr each made the point that the Democrats were being unfair in singling out the for-profit institutions. Senator Enzi, the ranking minority member on the Committee, followed up with a statement released on the HELP webpage. Enzi said. “It is naïve to think that these problems are limited to just the for-profit sector.”
Other highlights from the hearings:
- Senator Enzi made a point about how “servant leadership” is helpful in driving free and open markets. In making the point, he came dangerously close to saying “greed is good,” but backed off just in time.
- Danielle Johnson from Iowa testified about how she felt she was lied to by representatives of Kaplan University.
- Arnold Mitchem, President, Council for Opportunity in Education, provided testimony about the trouble that low income or first-generation students have in navigating higher education and the for-profit sector. Finances in higher education is confusing and accreditation is confusing. Those without college experience do not know the right questions to ask. They think they are dealing with counselors and not sales people.
- Kathleen Bittel is (or now was?) a career counselor for Educational Management Corporation, which operates The Arts Institutes, Argosy University, Brown Mackie College, and South University. She was one of nine career counselors serving three of those four colleges. She said her job was not about helping student and was focused on obtaining proof that 85.9% of their students were employed in skill-related employment with more than$30,000 in annual salary.
- Lauren Asher , President, The Institute for College Access and Success, spoke to her organization’s support of “gainful employment” legislation. She also was articulate in addressing the shortcomings of using the current graduation rates collected by the U.S. Department of Education.
- Senator Richard Burr (NC) apparently missed the memo to Republicans to boycott the hearing. Senators Enzi and McCain made brief appearances long enough to read statements and immediately exited the hearing room. Senator Burr said that he felt that the purpose of the hearing was to eliminate for-profit institutions and thought that is was unfair to tell returning soldiers where they could spend their GI Bill funds.
- Senator Jeff Merkley (OR) asked if “student loans should be extended to programs that are not accredited.” Ms. Asher gave a polite lesson on the difference between accrediting institution and accrediting program.
- Ms. Asher was also a champion of reviewing the financial incentives for colleges. “We need to shift incentives for colleges to focus on outcomes for students.”
Senator Harkin closed the event by saying that there will be one more hearing in December and that legislation will follow next year. Given the administration’s recent announcement of a delay in “gainful employment” regulations, the heightened partisan nature of this discussion, and the upcoming elections, it will be interesting to see how what is proposed and who is affected will change.