• September 4, 2015

Republican Gains in Congress Could Temper For-Profit Inquiry and Lead to Spending Cuts

John Boehner

Jim Young, Reuters

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), who broke down in tears during his speech, gives a thumbs-up at the end of his address to a Republican election night results watch rally in Washington, November 2, 2010.

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close John Boehner

Jim Young, Reuters

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), who broke down in tears during his speech, gives a thumbs-up at the end of his address to a Republican election night results watch rally in Washington, November 2, 2010.

The gains Republicans made in Tuesday's Congressional elections bode well for for-profit colleges, which are hoping for some respite from a harsh federal spotlight. They are also likely to lead to more-austere budgets on Capitol Hill, possibly resulting in spending cuts for student aid, research, and other higher-education priorities.

Republicans were on track to pick up dozens of seats from Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives as of late Tuesday, well more than they needed to gain control of the chamber. In the Senate, Republicans also gained some seats previously held by Democrats but fell short of the margin they needed to win the majority there.

The results are, in part, a rebuke of President Obama, including among members of the Millennial generation. Young voters, who overwhelmingly favored Mr. Obama in the 2008 elections, have been growing increasingly uninterested in the midterm elections and increasingly dissatisfied with the work elected officials are doing, according to results of a recent poll by Harvard University's Institute of Politics. Only about one in four eligible voters under the age of 30 who were surveyed for the Harvard poll, released last month, said they would "definitely be voting" in the midterm elections, a drop of nine percentage points from a similar poll conducted a year ago.

Young adults, under age 30, represented between 9 percent and 10 percent of all voters in Tuesday's election, down from 12 percent in the last midterm elections, in 2006, according to preliminary exit poll data provided by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. The group said late Tuesday that it could not yet estimate, though, whether the percentage of young people who voted actually rose, fell, or stayed the same, compared with 2006.

The large number of new members of Congress creates uncertainty about the direction higher-education policy will take over the next two years, with lobbyists saying they don't know much about many of the newly elected individuals' views on college issues. The lobbyists said they are unsure of what Republicans' priorities will be on higher education, how likely they are to follow through on plans to cut spending, and how much either party will be able to accomplish in a divided government.

Shift in For-Profit Debate

The outcome is expected to have a more-immediate effect on the fight over for-profit colleges than on any other federal higher-education policy debate. Having reclaimed the House of Representatives, Republicans could block bills aimed at for-profits and attempt to overturn the administration's proposed "gainful employment" rule, which would penalize programs whose graduates carry unmanageable levels of debt. Republican leaders have said they want to focus on scrutinizing the outcomes and costs of all types of colleges, not just those in the for-profit sector, shifting attention from problems at proprietary institutions alone to issues facing higher education as a whole.

Yet even the most sanguine of the sector's supporters acknowledge that the Republican takeover of the House won't be a panacea for for-profit institutions. Since Democrats have held onto the Senate, they can continue their investigation into for-profit colleges and thwart any Republican effort to overturn the expected gainful-employment rule.

Harris N. Miller, president of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, which largely represents for-profit institutions, said he has been less worried about which party controls Congress than he has been focused on how to win the support of the dozens of new legislators who will be coming to Washington.

Having so many new members presents a good opportunity for for-profit higher education to gain support in Congress, Mr. Miller said. In the past few election cycles, freshman representatives have tended to be more receptive to proprietary institutions than have longer-serving members, who remember the sector's problems in the 1980s and 1990s, he said.

"Those members are going to come in without some of the misconceptions and biases," Mr. Miller said of the freshmen.

David S. Baime, senior vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges, said some officials are worried that community colleges will be in the line of fire if Republicans expand the Democrats' probe into for-profit colleges to all of higher education.

Community colleges have been criticized for their graduation rates, which are lower than those of two-year, for-profit colleges. But Mr. Baime and others have said that policy makers should not use the same measurements to compare for-profit colleges, which tend to offer a large number of certificate programs, with community colleges, which award many associate degrees.

"Higher education across the board is anxious about having a lot of new outcome standards," Mr. Baime said. "But we stand by our performance."

Republicans' Pledge to Cut Spending

House Republican leaders have laid out some specifics about how they plan to govern. In a "Pledge to America" they unveiled this fall, they vowed to cut government spending to 2008 levels and cap growth of new money for domestic programs. Republicans said they would save at least $100-billion in the first year of their plan to roll back spending. The only programs specifically exempted in the plan benefit seniors, veterans, and U.S. troops.

John A. Boehner, the House Republican leader who is poised to become speaker of the House, said when he announced the pledge that it "offers a new way forward" for the country. The plan would cut spending rather than accelerate it, he said, and put more power "in the hands of the people" by reducing the size of government. "These are the solutions American people are demanding," said Mr. Boehner, who won reelection in his Ohio district by a wide margin.

The document does not specifically touch on higher education, but its budgetary provisions could lead to less money for federal research, student aid, and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, among other college priorities. Some higher-education leaders fear a return to the battles of the 1990s, when Republicans sought to eliminate federal money for those endowments.

But spending on Pell Grants, college-preparatory programs, and science has consistently received strong, bipartisan support in Congress. So some advocates of those programs say they are optimistic that Republicans might still spare those areas from their budget cuts, or that Democrats in the Senate would be able to beat back any efforts to reduce those programs' funds.

Mr. Boehner, who was first elected to Congress in 1990, brings to his leadership role significant higher-education-policy experience from his five years as chairman of the House education committee earlier this decade.

In that role, Mr. Boehner oversaw debates about renewing the Higher Education Act. While the law wasn't reauthorized until 2008, after Mr. Boehner had left the committee, the discussions showed him to be a friend of for-profit colleges and student-loan providers.

During those debates, Mr. Boehner pushed for eliminating a distinction between proprietary and nonprofit institutions that would have allowed for-profit colleges to receive millions of dollars in federal funds reserved for minority-serving institutions. And he called for eliminating the rule that prohibits for-profit institutions from getting more than 90 percent of their tuition revenue from federal student aid.

Mr. Boehner also worked to counter proposals by Democrats to expand direct lending.

Those positions put him at odds with the Obama administration and many Democrats in Congress, who are pursuing tighter regulation of for-profit colleges and who pushed through an overhaul of federal student loans this year that largely cut private lenders out of the federal student-loan system.

While Mr. Boehner's positions on higher education are fairly well known, those of the man who is in line to fill his former spot as chairman of the House education committee are more of a mystery. Rep. John P. Kline Jr. of Minnesota has served as the top Republican on the committee for just over a year and has had little involvement with higher education in his time on the panel.

For-profit colleges, though, count Mr. Kline as a strong ally, and he opposed the changes Democrats made in the student-loan program this year. He has said he is against measures that would increase regulations and generally favors a limited federal role in higher-education policy.

"Washington does not always know best," he told The Chronicle shortly after he became the committee's highest-ranking Republican.

Timothy H. Bishop, a Democrat of New York and a member of the House education committee, narrowly held on to his seat in a closely watched race among higher-education lobbyists. Mr. Bishop, a former provost at Southampton College of Long Island University, is familiar with the details of higher-education issues and has been very involved in them, pressing for changes in the student-loan system and advocating more scrutiny of for-profit colleges. He defeated Randy Altschuler, a Republican.

A More-Divided Senate

On the Senate side, Harry M. Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, survived a closely contested race against Sharron Angle, a Tea Party-backed Republican who previously served in the Nevada legislature.

As majority leader, Mr. Reid brokered compromises that allowed the Senate to pass the bill to overhaul student lending. He also pressed for passage of the Dream Act, a measure that would provide a pathway to citizenship through higher education or military service for young people who came to the country illegally and make them eligible for some federal aid. Mr. Reid has vowed to bring up the measure again for a vote in a lame-duck session of Congress planned between now and when newly elected members take office next year.

On the education committee, Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who has been leading a series of hearings that have scrutinized for-profit colleges, is expected to retain his position as chairman. He was not up for re-election this year. Had Republicans gained control of the chamber, Sen. Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming would have most likely assumed the chairmanship. As the top Republican on the committee, he has pushed to widen the committee's exploration of for-profit colleges to question the return on investment at nonprofit institutions, too. He was also not up for re-election.

Other education-committee members, including Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Michael F. Bennet of Colorado, both Democrats, were also in close races. As of early Wednesday, both races were too close to call. Community-college lobbyists consider Ms. Murray one of their strongest supporters.

Community-college officials also closely watched the campaign of Sen. Blanche Lambert Lincoln, a Democrat of Arkansas they considered one of their biggest proponents. She was defeated by John Boozman, a Republican.

One new Democratic face in the Senate, Joe Manchin III, has made improving college completion one of his priorities as governor of West Virginia. He beat John Raese, a Republican. Mr. Manchin, who was named chairman this year of the National Governors Association, said at a governors' meeting this summer that, of all the pressing problems facing state leaders in this tough economy, none is more important than improving the number of students with a college credential.

"We're facing a generation of students that is projected to have lower educational attainment than their parents'," Mr. Manchin said, calling the statistic "alarming."

Looking ahead, college advocates say they aren't sure what to expect from a divided government and whether split control of Congress will lead to stubborn impasses or force pragmatic compromises.

"It depends on how the leadership reads the outcome," Mr. Miller said. "If what they're hearing is that people want less government and gridlock, then that's what we'll get."

On Tuesday night, Mr. Boehner said he was ready to get to work. "This is not a time for celebration," he said. "This is a time to roll up our sleeves, a time to look forward with determination."

Kelly Field contributed to this article.


1. pcksek - November 03, 2010 at 08:32 am

Hmmm - an attempt to alienate those who support higher education, yet are Republicans???? Grow up.

2. thomist - November 03, 2010 at 09:20 am

I am very happy that the Republicans have taken back the House! Gains made in the Senate will keep the spend thrift Democrats from doing whatever they wish. The House can keep our worst president in check until his defeat (hopefully) in 2012. Too bad Reid kept his seat. Yet, it is nice, so very nice, to know that Pelosi will no longer be Speaker of the House.

Republicans took a good number of governorships and we mustn't forgot the importance of the office of Governor. This win by the GOP is larger than that of 1994. Hopefully, too, some of Obama's insane Health Care initiatives can be rolled back or, at least, curbed.

It is a great day in the U.S.A.!

3. sharonmurphy - November 03, 2010 at 09:27 am

Dear Thomist - You and your offspring deserve everything that is coming as the Repugnicans roll out the realities of their Pledge against America. The sad thing is that all the rest of us will have to suffer it with you.

4. feudi - November 03, 2010 at 09:33 am

This election was not a mandate for the Republicans so much as a repudiation to President Obama's policies which were enacted to try to fix the damage done by the Republicans since 2000. So far, the Republicans are acting just like they did when they were in power. Already Boehner is trying to repeal the 90% revenue rule on for profit schools. The Repubs know a gravy train when they see one and that gravy train is why we're seeing all those commercials on TV lately for Phoenix, et al. The Republicans promised that this time, they'd act differently. I'll believe that when I see it.

5. sharonmurphy - November 03, 2010 at 10:52 am

Young people who failed to vote will have only themselves to blame as the Repugnicans roll out the realities of their Pledge against America. And everybody else who failed to vote has abdicated the right to gripe and complain as the roll out rolls on them.

6. dpn33 - November 03, 2010 at 12:03 pm

It's funny how Republicans blame the current administration,in office for only two years, for the deficit that was created under Republican control in the previous eight years. Bush did not inherit a deficit, but he sure knew how to create one. Because Obama couldn't magically make 8 years of damage and rampage disappear in two, he must be "repudiated." What a crock. Hope things do get better, but I doubt it. And the Republicans will still blame the Deomocrats.

7. kdl0510 - November 03, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Colleges and universities need to monitor the budget cuts that may be coming from the federal government(I am sure not all cuts are going to be applied). The biggest victim of these possible changes will be the students and of course faculty and staff. Hopefully higher education adminstrators needs to be more active regarding the policies and regulations that may be coming forth.

As for the for-profits the only thing I can say is that they need to remember to help their students become success citizens of our society.

IMO: This coversation should be restrict to how it affects higher education. Thomist comment is irrelevant to the conversation since it has nothing directly to do with this coversation. Thank you.

8. nydave - November 03, 2010 at 01:32 pm

Repugnicans. Stay classy, Sharon.

9. gsudduth - November 03, 2010 at 01:50 pm

The Blame game: now sing it................

others.......I'm sure, but some unfortunately will not only sound wrong.........but for everyone's opinion they will be wrong. Just how short a memory does the American public have?

REAGON, REAGON BO REAGON................see it dosen't really work and no one really remembers do they?

10. oldcommprof - November 03, 2010 at 03:18 pm

I've read the article three times now, pcksek, and can't see any attempt to alienate the few Republicans who respect or support higher ed, unless you're alienated by the fact that high ed will suffer mightily -- which is indeed clear from the facts.

It lays out the history of attempts to reduce funding and support for those who will grow richer at the commercial diploma mills pretty clearly, I'd say.

11. gent258 - November 03, 2010 at 04:02 pm

Many of the for-profits are rip-offs that prey on uninformed people. Their tuition is often several times that of a local community college and the education is often worthless. Since many are unaccredited, their "credits" do not transfer to any legitimate institution. If you look at where they are located, it all becomes clear. Many for-profits are located in neighborhoods where one finds check for cash outlets and sleazy stores. Most middle income people who often have college degrees themselves want and demand better for their children.

12. educ8or - November 03, 2010 at 05:13 pm

Actually the Republicans' damage goes way back before 2000!
From 1980 to 2008 (28 years) the Republicans had control of the White House except for 8 years of President Clinton; and our country was thriving under his leadership!
President Obama inherited the mess that the father-and-son Bush team created with their wars. Unfortunately, the American public expected a miracle cure from President Obama.
The fixing of the economy is like weight gain; you can't expect the damage to be fixed over night; it takes time and patience. It needs a real leader like President Obama, not a War Decider like GW.

13. thomist - November 04, 2010 at 10:20 am

To "Sharonmurphy,"

I usually do not respond to such an intellectual "empty" piece of raw emotion. But, I thought it a good example of precisely what people should not do when posting. Firt, let's have a little review. Here is your response to my comment:

"Dear Thomist - You and your offspring deserve everything that is coming as the Repugnicans roll out the realities of their Pledge against America. The sad thing is that all the rest of us will have to suffer it with you."

"You and your 'offspring'?" This drips with animosity and hatred toward another group of people, another group of American, namely, Republicans, merely because the American political process went flawlessly (well, almost...some recounts going on). You are mad. Plain and simple and this is your online "temper tantrum."
I am a conservative Republican but I do not go around name calling. It is when people such as yourself turn political ideology into a religion (or pseudo-religion) that you are mad and mus strike back.
We had a fair election. There was no need for troops and there was no rioting. Think how luck you are to live in a nation in which you can parties can switch and deep in your heart you not worrying about a coup the next day.
You should really put things in perspective. Your hatred toward Republicans in not based upon sound reasoning nor logic. It is based upon irrational fear and anxiety. There aren't many conservatives on here but it is the liberals that always talk about the "freedom of speech." Good. I exercised mind. I didn't insult anyone.
Your party lost its majority in the House. Pelosi shan't be wielding her dagger any longer. I bet in the past 10 years you haven't been homeless, nor in bread lines, nor really in agject poverty as so many in the world are.
This begs the questions: Is your life here really that bad regardless of which party is in power?
You have some deep issues that probably spill over into your relationships with other people.
By using negative phrases like "...and my offspring" sounds very close to hate speech. Just say you apply that phrase to race and you know the backlash would be fast and furious.
You can disagree with debasing yourself (which is exactly what you're doing). You must face it that there isn't going to be a single party communist or socialist system of politics in America. It wouldn't be healthy if either party had complete and total control.
There must be balance and that is exactly what "the system" provided for on election night. People voted. The "spoke," you might say, and the results are in.
I doubt a true academic would write such words. So, have your temper tantrum and get over it. If you change, then get out in 2012 and do some volunteer work. Get involved.
But never hate nor use such awful, hate-filled speech as "...and my offspring."

OK. I am happy with the turnout. I've said I'm a conservative. And, in this post haven't said anything hateful toward Democrats. You must learn to agree to disagree. You cannot reverse what you have no power over. Acceptance. St. Francis taught about it. You should read some about him.


14. thomist - November 04, 2010 at 10:23 am

Long post. Excuse the typos. I was typing quickly


15. greeneyeshade - November 04, 2010 at 04:21 pm

I know this election will end up hurting higher ed. But shouldn't higher ed be taking a broader perspective on the economy as a whole instead of being so concerned about its particular interests?

I for one was disappointed when I saw the number and amounts of grants that were doled out in the stimulus plan to higher ed. Where were the jobs programs? Four of our five children (2 hers and 3 mine)--two with degrees and two with at least 2 years of college under their belts--are either unemployed or underemployed.

On a personal level, it rubs the wrong way that money went to researchers who are already employed, while millions of Americans go jobless, living from hand to mouth. There will be some trickle down, but how long will it take, and how much will actually trickle down and not sit in university reserve accounts?

As for higher ed, an impoverished base of potential students will not bode well for future enrollment potential, nor will jobless graduates speak well of the schools through which they matriculated.

16. jaysanderson - November 04, 2010 at 04:49 pm

Higher ed has already suffered under a completely democrat-controlled government. What gains have we made in the last two years? None coming to mind? There aren't any. All of the administration's efforts have been directed elsewhere toward taking care of the special interests that paid for the election.

Didn't federal work study suffer a huge decrease this past year? All Obama. A number of my students left school because of that decrease. I won't be naive and determine who's good and bad by drawing political lines. The only real difference between one and the other is who they have to pay off for putting them in office.

Obama had to pay off unions and the republicans will have to pay big business. Business operates like the mafia and the unions ARE the mafia. Don't condescend to tell me who wears the white hat and who wears the black hat--that's B.S. and I know it.

17. 22079340 - November 04, 2010 at 07:15 pm

For profit educational institutions should have the same right to rip off, lie to, and pimp Americans as Halliburton, BP, CountryWide, Wall Street and countless other "US" corporations. After all, that's what modern consumer capitalism is all about! That's why these corporations were deemed to be "individuals" by the Supreme Court "Justices" appointed by GOP Presidents these corporations bought and paid for.

18. supertatie - November 05, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Let's see....how does the article manage to skew the evidence as Republicans being hostile to education?

By casting veiled threats about what the Pledge to America MIGHT do, even though the author states, "The document [Pledge to America] does not specifically touch on higher education..."

By suggesting that Republicans won't support federal spending for higher ed, even though she also acknowledges that, "...spending on Pell Grants, college-preparatory programs, and science has consistently received strong, bipartisan support in Congress..."

And then by waving a red flag about - *gasp!* - for profit colleges, which have, of late, been the subject of a leftist witchhunt, even though the writer also has to admit that, "the law [Higher Education Act] wasn't reauthorized until 2008, after Mr. Boehner had left the committee..."

For the records, I have no problem with asking the for-profit colleges to provide evidence of positive outcomes for students AS LONG AS ALL 4-year colleges and universities are asked the to the same thing. (I think community colleges and junior colleges must be held to a different standard, since many of those who take courses there never intend to obtain even a two-year degree.)

Let's force the universities to demonstrate that the $50K, $100K, $150K that some of their graduates have in debt when they leave is justified by the salaries and the careers they maintain.

If they won't agree to be held to the same standard, then it's clear that they're just trying to force out competition, and to use Congress as a bludgeon in that effort. And in that case, Congress would be right to decline.

19. laoshi - November 19, 2010 at 11:25 pm

Privatize'em all; let the marketplace sort it out. No-bama in 2012!

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