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Lobbyist for For-Profit College Likens Senator Harkin’s Efforts to ‘Jihad’

Today, the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU) kicked off its “Hill Day and Policy Forum,” in Washington, D.C. The day is designed to lobby against proposed regulations by the Department of Education that seek to increase accountability of for-profit schools.

These regulations, known as “gainful employment,” seek to bring increased accountability to for-profit career colleges by limiting federal aid to programs that have high default rates or disproportionate debt-to-income ratios. APSCU’s official position on these regulations has been that they “would severely limit choice in higher education, and yet would do nothing to prevent ‘bad actors.’” [Disclosure: The advocacy arm of Campus Progress has strongly supported the proposed regulations and this publication has previously run articles critical of the for-profit education industry.]

The three-day lobbying program offers separate agendas for students and “non-student” attendees. The non-student track has much more high-profile speakers, including Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.); former members of Congress: “Hon. Henry Bonilla, Hon. Vic Fazio, Hon. Tim Hutchinson, Hon. Toby Moffett”; and Assistant Secretary of Employment and Training Administration at the Department of Labor Jane Oates.

Fazio is a Former California congressman and lobbyist for Akin, Grump, Strauss, Hauer, & Feld LLP, a law firm that has lobbied on behalf of for-profit giant Kaplan University, which is actively opposing the regulations. Kaplan spent $350,000 on federal lobbying in the third quarter of 2010, $100,000 of that through Akin Gump, and $270,000 in the second quarter, $90,000 at Akin Gump, according to an analysis by Inside Higher Ed.

Following the group’s #HILLDAY2011 hashtag on Twitter, we came acrossa re-tweet by APSCU’s official Twitter account of a tweet by the editor of the website Career College Central, Kevin Kuzma. The tweet states that during a panel at Hill Day, speaker Victor A. Fazio likened Senator Tom Harkin’s efforts to reign in for-profit colleges to “jihad.” Check out the screen grab below:

In addition to likening the Iowa senator to a terrorist, the day today also offers a joint panel for students and non-students on “grassroots advocacy.” This panel features a section on advocating through social media.

The panel also features Dawn Connor of Students for Academic Choice as a “successful campus student association.” But Students for Academic Choice has been called an “astroturf” lobbying group by the Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch, which has a mission of “investigating and countering PR campaigns and spin by corporations, industries, and government agencies.”

In documents distributed at today's event obtained by Campus Progress, APSCU offers "Tips for Talking With the Media." These "tips" encourage students to stonewall reporters on debt loads. Full text of the distributed doument is here [PDF] and a portion is reproduced below:

TIPS FOR TALKING WITH THE MEDIA

  • Describe breifly the way your career education has enhanced your ability to focus on goal attainment.
  • If you attend a "traditional" college before enrolling in a career institution, coment briefly on how the career college experience was/is better suited to your needs.
  • Should a reporter ask if or how much debt you incurred at a career institution, you can firmly but politely reply: "I made an adult decision to invest in my education and I am confident in my ability to meet my financial responsiblities."
  • Should the reporter continue to push the debt point, you can politely but firmly reply: "I have answered that question, and am happy to talk more about how my degree/diploma/certificate has enhanced my career prospects."
  • To the question of high-pressure recruitment, the student could reply: "My decision to choose a private sector college was made after I had considered other options. It was my choice, and I made it based on several factors, not solely on any contact with recruiters."

APSCU has long lobbied against the proposed "gainful employment" regulations. Last year, they sponsored a similar student lobbying day for which they flew hundreds of students to Washington, D.C., and put them up in hotels. APSCU has also spent $100,000 (paid to the Podesta Group) in the third quarter of 2010, more than doubling the amount spent in the previous quarter. Data on lobbying for the final quarter of 2010 hasn’t yet been released.

Katie is the Communications and Outreach Manager for Campus Progress.

Kay Steiger is the editor of CampusProgress.org.

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