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Black Leaders and For-Profit Schools

Recently the Atlanta Post ran an excellent piece criticizing some African-American leaders for opposing new regulations proposed by the Department of Education that would improve accountability of for-profit schools. The idea behind the proposed regulations, which Campus Progress supports, is to remove federal financial aid from college-level training programs if a large percentage of their students fail to find work or end up with high levels of debt. Seems like a good idea for all students—including students of color, right? But according to the editorial:

Interestingly enough, Black leaders like Jesse Jackson and members of the Black Caucus are opposed to these new regulations. William Gray, a Pennsylvania Democrat and former Black Caucus member, has been tapped to lobby on the behalf of the for-profit schools.

Why some black leaders are suddenly on the for-profits’ side of the debate is unclear, but he Post piece raises some questions:

… it’s questionable whether the black leaders challenging the Department of Education’s attempts are inspired by lobbying duties or genuine conviction. The for-profit industry is spending a lot of money to fight these proposed regulations and lobbying politicians constitutes a legal way of buying favors. According to Bloomberg, ten education companies have increased their spending on lobbying by $1.3 million over the last year. All that influx of money makes it difficult to discern why William Gray and Jesse Jackson are defending these schools[.]

Jackson and Gray might be on the side of the for-profit schools, but not all prominent black leaders are on board. Inside Higher Ed recently reported that for-profit lobbyist Lanny Davis asked to include prominent black leader Al Sharpton on an ad campaign to oppose the regulations, but Sharpton objected. In an email he reportedly sent to Davis, Sharpton said:

Though I agree that there is a need for the services the schools provide, especially in communities of color, we should weed out the abusers of this service. … To attack the Department rather than engage them is a bad strategy in my opinion. I think the President and Sec Duncan are not the enemies here. In fact I think they have done more for closing the education achievement gap than they have been given credit.

Furthermore, Julianne Hing’s reporting in Colorlines points out that minority leaders taking a stand against regulations that cut off funds from bad programs doesn’t make sense:

According to the Career College Association, which represents for-profit schools, 43 percent of students are people of color; in the United States, 23 percent of blacks and 18 percent of Latinos with associate degrees went to for-profit schools. 

Most notably, for-profit schools teach 12 percent of the nation’s post-secondary students—and counting—but receive 23 percent of the nation’s federal student aid money. This alone is not a bad thing—students deserve an education and help to make their education affordable. But 40 percent of students from for-profit schools eventually default on their loans; the national average for all higher education institutions is 20 percent. And the dropout rate from for-profit schools is also alarmingly high—a whopping 57 percent never graduate.

Those are some pretty startling figures. If anything, black and other minority leaders should be calling for stronger regulations so that students of color aren’t left with huge piles of debt and dismal job prospects.

Kay Steiger is the editor of CampusProgress.org.

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