With all the heat that San Francisco based for-profit colleges take from media, lawmakers and even their own alumni, it would seem that their likeliness to make powerful friends would be zero to none.
Nancy Pelosi came out publicly in support of for-profit colleges and their federal loan-sharking tactics earlier this year when she voted in favor of a GOP-sponsored amendment to block the Secretary of Education’s loan revision plan.
The plan, which was eventually finalized June 2 amidst opposition, places heavy restrictions on the eligibility of schools to receive federal financial aid. On average, if graduates of a school are unable to pay for their loans, the school then becomes ineligible for the federal aid.
“City Colleges are the big stepping stone, President Obama called them ‘the bridge,’” Pelosi said in a Guardsman multimedia interview after the commencement. Adding that community colleges are essential to the community as well as the students.
City College vs College Inc
City College’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality program has an enrolment of over 250 students every year and was the first two-year culinary program in the country.
Even with this resource available, many students choose to enroll at for-profit culinary schools such as California Culinary Academy.
Many alumni of these schools have stated that the schools guaranteed job opportunities and tricked them into taking loans when, in reality, the degrees from the schools are seen as worthless in the culinary fields. In fact, many restaurant owners specifically turn away new graduates of CCA.
“For me it seemed that it was more about money — it was more a body factory, and not as much about education,” CCA alumni Chris Kronner told SF Weekly. “As long as you pay your $50,000, they will give you a degree.”
Career Education Corporation, the parent company of CCA, has been engaged in lawsuits with alumni of its San Francisco school as well as with others across the country.
A lawsuit filed in 2007 was recently settled by CEC, costing the company $40 million to avoid admitting wrongdoing. The settlement came mere weeks after Pelosi turned against her fellow Bay Area representatives to vote against the amendment in early April.
Deep pockets, deep influence
As Matier and Ross pointed out in their April 10 column, a large number of very wealthy colleges or their founders call San Francisco home.
This includes John Sperling, a major democratic donor and founder of University of Phoenix, as well as the large number of for-profits in the city, from Everest College to the Academy of Art University and everything in between.
Univeristy of Phoenix itself has been under scrutiny for predatory practices, using underhanded techniques to persuade low income students into heavy loans to attend their online universities, as evidenced in a report by PBS’ Frontline.
According to Matier and Ross, San Francisco based schools make up a large portion of the $32 billion given to for-profit colleges for student loans and Pell Grants each year.
The lack of experience and training alumni of for-profit colleges receive in these programs makes for a poor job placement record. These jobless graduates make up 43 percent of the total number of students nationally who default on these federal loans, even though they only account for 10 percent of the college population, says the Department of Education.
That’s just too much money from the federal government, and too little oversight. Students of the Bay Area and the nation needed our representative, Pelosi, to back us up in the uphill battle against wealthy for-profit schools. When the loan revision plan came to the house, she had a chance to defend her constituents.
She wasn’t there.
Pelosi should place her bets on public education
“Many young people are able to be trained in for-profit schools,” Pelosi told the Guardsman. “Some of them are exploitative, I think that should be subjected to review, but I don’t think you should paint everyone with the same brush.”
Pelosi is wrong.
Time and time again, for-profit colleges have shown that without significant oversight, they will continue to exploit the students they claim they serve. And even though one battle against them has been won in the form of loan oversight, this is by no means the end of regulations needed to reign in private school scandals.
The bill doesn’t address their predatory practices, or their exorbitant costs. In fact, since the bill only requires that a certain percentage of students pay their loans on time, this may increase the number of underhanded techniques these colleges employ in order to make sure their percentages are met.
Pelosi’s support for for-profit colleges is shameful. The hypocrisy of maintaining federal financial support for corrupt private education, while at the same time slashing funds for community colleges left and right is patently absurd.
Instead of assisting the corrupt practices of for-profit schools, Pelosi should direct her energy at fixing the slow decline of public schools and providing funds to help them become more accessible and equipped to compete in the modern era of education.
Pelosi has spent years as one of the most powerful people in Washington. If anyone knows how to play the political game it’s her. She may put a smile on in front of her constituents at events like City College’s commencement, but she’s shown that her hands are controlled by the puppet strings of the rich and powerful, who show no regard for the rest of us.
Students need all the help they can get in this day and age. Pelosi needs to make a choice: either she is the defender of for-profit schools, or she can be a powerful supporter in the cause of public education.
Also watch our Video Editorial on Pelosi and for-profit schools: