In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Dems Fight To Protect For-Profit Colleges From Disclosure Rules

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In a "Dear Colleague" letter, nine House members are building support for an amendment -- sponsored by Reps. John Kline (R-MN) and Virginia Foxx (R-NC) -- to the federal spending legislation that would do just that.

"We write to ask for your support for an amendment to H.R. 1, the Full Year Continuing Appropriations Act, which prohibits the use of funds by the Department of Education for the implementation of its misguided "Gainful Employment" rule," the members write. "Though some poorly performing programs would be eliminated should the rule be implemented, it will also eliminate programs that we all agree are of high quality while ignoring others of questionable value. Additionally, the rule impacts one sector of higher education almost exclusively, private sector colleges and universities, avoiding legitimate questions that have been raised about some elements of traditional higher education."

You can read their entire letter below. It was spearheaded by Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), and Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and cosigned by Reps. Donald Payne (D-NJ), Ed Towns (D-NY), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Jason Altmire (D-PA), Robert Brady (D-PA), and Andre Carson (D-IN) -- members from states that host big for-profit schools. It was followed up by a separate letter Thursday from Congressional Black Caucus members: Hastings, Towns, Carson and Payne, but also Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Charlie Rangel (D-NY).

They're being backed up by the Black and Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, and the Coalition for Educational Success -- a coalition of career colleges -- all of which support the amendment.

On the other side of this fight are a bunch of congressional Democrats and the Obama administration, who see this as explicit shilling on behalf of the for-profit university system. They point out that the disclosure required is extremely basic -- the graduation rate, the cost, the placement rate, and the median loan debt students who complete the program incur. And they point to study after study, which show these schools prey on poor and minority Americans.

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 postsecondary 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."

To highlight just how out of sync Democratic supporters are with their constituents, the administration cites letters of support they've received from advocates. One comes from the United Negro College Fund, The National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Thurgood Marshall College fund, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, and the National Council of La Raza. The other comes from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

One aide with the Congressional Black Caucus put it more bluntly. "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."

Even if this amendment passes, it will be a rider on legislation President Obama has already pledged to veto. So the fight over this rule is still fairly young, and won't come to a head until Congressional leaders and the White House sit down to figure out how to fund the government going forward.

Dear Colleague,

We write to ask for your support for an amendment to H.R. 1, the Full Year Continuing Appropriations Act, which prohibits the use of funds by the Department of Education for the implementation of its misguided "Gainful Employment" rule.

Though some poorly performing programs would be eliminated should the rule be implemented, it will also eliminate programs that we all agree are of high quality while ignoring others of questionable value. Additionally, the rule impacts one sector of higher education almost exclusively, private sector colleges and universities, avoiding legitimate questions that have been raised about some elements of traditional higher education.

Under the Department's proposed regulation, countless low-income and minority students will lose access to the educational opportunities vital to their economic success. Today, 2.8 million students attend career colleges. Seventy-six percent of these students live independently, without parental support. Sixty-three percent are 24 years old or older. Fifty-four percent delayed postsecondary education after high school. Forty-seven percent have dependent children, and almost one-third of these students are single parents.

The Department's suggested approach will disproportionately harm these nontraditional and lower-income students who have no choice but to rely on student loans to pursue a postsecondary education and need the flexibility career colleges provide. Too many students will be impacted, and too many questions are still unanswered to justify the Department's insistence on pursuing the draft regulations.

We urge you to join us in sending a message to the Department that they should go back to the drawing board and work with Congress to enact meaningful reforms to our higher education system that truly protect student interests and effectively measure educational quality across all sectors of higher education.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact xxxxxxx or xxxxxxx with Rep. Hastings ... or xxxxxxx with Rep. McCarthy.

Sincerely,

Alcee L. Hastings
Member of Congress

Carolyn McCarthy
Member of Congress

Donald M. Payne
Member of Congress

Edolphus Towns
Member of Congress

Ted Deutch
Member of Congress

Eliot L. Engel
Member of Congress

Jason Altmire
Member of Congress

Robert A. Brady
Member of Congress

André Carson
Member of Congress

About The Author

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Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com