Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Monday, October 24, 2016

by David Halperin, Republic Report

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R) will be the keynote speaker at the Las Vegas annual convention of the trade association of for-profit colleges, APSCU, according to the group’s website.  Although some reputable, responsible colleges are members of APSCU, the organization is dominated by large companies, many of which — Corinthian, ITT, Education Management Corp., Kaplan, Career Education Corp., DeVry — are now under investigation by federal law enforcement agencies, state attorneys general, or both. Pending lawsuits brought by government authorities charge that big for-profit colleges have engaged in deceptive advertising; coercive boiler room recruiting targeted at veterans, single mothers, and others; misrepresentations about programs costs and job placement; student loan fraud; and other misconduct.

President Obama has said that some for-profit colleges are “trying to swindle and hoodwink” students, because they only “care about the cash.” Their students, the president has said, “can’t find a job. They default…. Their credit is ruined, and the for-profit institution is making out like a bandit.” Acting to protect the bad behavior of such companies, APSCU has led the charge to block President Obama’s proposed “gainful employment” rule, which would cut off federal aid to career college programs that, because of a toxic combination of high prices and low quality, consistently leave their students with insurmountable student loan debt.

As Bush weighs a run for the White House in 2016, he may be attracted to the immense wealth of the for-profit college industry, which has been receiving more than $33 billion a year from federal taxpayer money, and uses a good chunk of that money to make campaign contributions and buy the allegiance of politicians in Washington. Although the industry provides plenty of cash to Capitol Hill Democrats, it is closely aligned with the Republican Party, and in 2012 it bet big on Mitt Romney, who praised for-profit colleges on the campaign trail and turned out himself to be an investor in the industry.

But as the public becomes increasingly aware that for-profit colleges have been ripping off taxpayers and ruining students’ lives, there are risks of keynoting the APSCU conference.  In 2012, Michelle Rhee took some heat — and not just from me — for speaking. (The other keynote that year, Bush’s brother, former President George W. Bush, stressed his commitment to accountability for K-12 schools receiving federal money, an applause line that got no applause among the for-profit college barons in attendance, since their lobbying is focused precisely on avoiding accountability.)

In 2013, APSCU announced its keynote would be Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and boasted that Mullen’s appearance at the convention would “be a truly extraordinary moment for private sector education, bringing increased visibility and respect to the sector.” For reasons unknown, Mullen canceled. (I had written an article questioning his decision to appear, given the well-documented abuses and deception of veterans by many players in the for-profit college industry.)  APSCU then found a willing replacement for Mullen — former presidential candidate General Wesley Clark.

But although those speakers addressed a for-profit college industry whose abuses were already well-known, the  industry’s reputation is even worse now, as the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Trade Commission, Justice Department, and Department of Education have launched investigations or filed lawsuits against APSCU members, and more than 30 state attorneys general are collaborating on major probes of the industry. Prospective students and investors have been getting the message, and enrollments and share prices have plummeted.

But rather than commit to serious reforms, the industry continues to focus on its biggest strength: lobbying and buying influence with politicians.  Joining Jeb Bush as an APSCU speaker this year is former senator Bob Kerrey (D-NE), who has financial ties to the industry.

Bush has made K-12 education “reform” a central component of his policy agenda, with a focus on privatization — charter schools and vouchers.  While APSCU’s name — which stands for Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities — stresses the free market image it wants to project, the biggest for-profit colleges receive about 86 percent of their revenue from taxpayer dollars.

This article originally appeared on Republic Report.

This article also appears on Huffington Post

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2014 The National Memo
  • Ann-Marie Poli

    The kids who are most at risk of being taken advantage of by these predatory schools are the ones who can least afford it. They are usually the kids who had a tougher row to hoe, working too many hours to do well in high school, underprivileged, etc. The student gets a shoddy education and the taxpayer gets the bill. My first thought when I saw this article was that Jeb Bush is speaking for them, while Elizabeth Warren would speak against them.

    • Allan Richardson

      The taxpayers AND the students both get a raw deal. Students are on the hook for the rest of their lives to pay for overpriced and useless educations, and when their personal finances fail, the taxpayers have to pick up the tab; then the students owe the government for the rest of their lives.

      We have “lemon laws” for cars. We need a LEMON LAW for schools and courses too. After a few of these “schools” go under because they had to refund 90 percent of their revenue and get so much bad publicity that even the most clueless victims stay away, this kind of business would be greatly reduced. Isn’t that the way the FREE MARKET is supposed to work? That you should not profit by putting out an inferior product?

      We also need to put student loans, including debts owed to the government, on the same basis as other loans in bankruptcy.

  • charles king

    I have a story to tell about these capitalistic pigs on how they have got into your States and federal government. I am a Korean Veteran and I taught Public segregated school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1996 I asked my Government for a forgiven loan of ($6800) that i owed on my school loan. I feel to this day that I was discrimated against. In (2000) Bush got in to office and the Plutocracts passed a law that the Govt could take out of your Social Scurity (15%) and all of any tax return you get. The ($6800) that I owed is now up to over ($10000) Pheea of Pennsylvania is part of this frauglent operation. They use the People’s assets and Privatize the office of Pheea and then become manger of public funds that was for the Peoples education. Wake up America because this is how slavery got started. I refuse to pay the basters off and they will have to wait until I die. Thank You are the magic words in my book. I Love Ya All. Check out those (Capitalistic Pigs, sorry ass Plutocracts, Republicans and Democracts Representives Do Nothingiers etc.) Mr. C. E. KING

  • Independent1

    Maybe Jeb will follow in George’s footsteps and start helping the “Jews for Jesus” raise money by speaking at one of their fundraising events.

    See this:

    George W. Bush spoke at a gathering of these people who have dedicated themselves to the elimination of Judaism. Make no mistake, that is their ultimate goal. Guests paid up to $100,000 each to hear the former president speak at the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute. All of that money goes to Jews For Jesus (and to pay their speakers) to help accomplish their ultimate goal. Bush has been relatively quiet in his retirement so his decision to be seen as part of this group is surprising. As Rachel Maddow asked last week, “Why on earth would he be doing this?”

    That Bush decided to speak at this institute has angered Jewish leaders. A former Bush liaison to the Jewish community, Tevi Troy, pointed out that Bush was a good friend to Israel during his tenure. But even he admits that he would be “lying if he said he wasn’t disappointed.” Rabbi David Wolpe of the Sinai Temple in Los Angeles said that he was “infuriated” by Bush’s decision.

  • Sand_Cat

    Why shouldn’t the predatory candidate from the predatory party address the predatory “educators”?