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Right Here in River City? Mitt Romney’s Higher Education Poli$$y

October 24, 2012, 10:40 pm

Well, either you’re closing your eyes
To a situation you do not wish to acknowledge
Or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated
By the presence of a pool table in your community.

“Ya Got Trouble,” The Music Man (1957)

Dick van Dyke as Harold Hill, 1980

I’ve seen this several times on the news: some proffie in a swing state who believes that Barack Obama has failed to deliver.  So said proffie is going to register his disapproval by staying home on election day.

I don’t disagree with many reasonable leftists’ reluctance to endorse the President — drones, torture, Guantanamo, his use of phrases like “clean coal” (????) — I agree, and I had strong reservations about Obama’s support for the left agenda before I voted for him the first time. However, I also believe that voting is a fundamental civic duty, and that every citizen has an obligation to make a choice between the two candidates presented. It’s a choice not to vote, of course, but it’s a dumb choice not to vote when the other guy’s plan for good government is to sell your country to his cronies. Professors should really care about this, since a Romney presidency will remake higher education around the Harold Hills of Higher Ed, for-profit colleges and universities.

This probably doesn’t surprise you. However, it may surprise you to learn that the Romney family has investments in this industry through Tagg Romney, the Mittster’s son and campaign surrogate and his private equity firm Solamere.

According to Lee Fang of The Nation (October 29 2012), Solamere’s profitable connection to high-defaulting degree mills includes Full Sail University, an obscure “career college for the entertainment and production industry” in Winter Park, Florida. Click this link for the page where Full Sail lists the “salary potential” of its degrees in the entertainment industry and this link labeled “tuition” — which doesn’t tell you what the tuition is.

Although Full Sail is the third most expensive school in the country, Romney has touted its online and on-campus degree programs as a good example of the private sector can help students “hold down the cost of their education.” However, one of the ways they do that is by hanging on the public financial tit: they recruit students, help them  fill out the paperwork for federally guaranteed loans, and siphon off whatever money those students are entitled to from Florida state grant programs and the Veterans Administration.

As Fang notes, when apparently picking Full Sail University as a random example of a for-profit education option, Romney “neglected to mention” that its owner, TA Associates, is one of Solamere’s investment opportunities:

Indeed, TA Associates has viewed the for-profit college industry—a $40 billion market where 85 percent of the funds are supplied by taxpayers—as an excellent opportunity for growth. The firm has invested in other for-profit colleges, including the Rocky Mountain School of Design, the Los Angeles Film School and Vatterott Educational Centers Inc. Like most profit-driven colleges, which account for only 10 percent of all students but about half of all loan defaults, TA Associates’ schools do not boast a stellar track record. Leaked documents for Vatterott show that recruiters were instructed to use “pain” when targeting students—who, the recruiters are told, decide on college “based more on emotion than logic.” Within three years of dropping out or graduating, 26.6 percent of Vatterott students default on their loans.

Money lost to for-profits is not just lost to taxpayers, legitimate colleges and students who will pay those loans back for decades without having received a degree. The Music Men of higher ed siphon public money right into the pockets of investors and CEO’s. Only federal regulations, and federal investigations of the fraudulent promises made by these Harold Hills of education, restrain them at all. As Fang points out:

Romney would have the ultimate power, through his Education Department, to decide if the current loopholes in federal lending policy continue to benefit for-profit colleges regardless of their track record. The Romney campaign’s education policy outline already makes clear that he would roll back the few regulations requiring for-profit colleges to demonstrate that a percentage of their students are able to find jobs after graduation as a basis for receiving aid.

He would also have the power to rescind President Obama’s recent executive order limiting for-profit college recruitment at military bases. Summit Partners, a Solamere private equity fund, owns Trident University, a for-profit college that targets veterans. “The fact that Mitt Romney praised an overpriced, underperforming college that is owned by his son’s investment partners, and whose owners have contributed a quarter-million dollars to his campaign and Super PAC, shows how he embodies the corrupting influence of money on politics,” asserts David Halperin, a college affordability advocate and attorney who has covered the for-profit industry for years. “It shows how his administration could, as a matter of course, allow special interests—the interests of his rich friends—to skew important policy decisions and harm the public interest.”

So be angry about foreign policy — Lord knows I am. But the endless taking of profits at the expense of genuine education is not an acceptable substitute for even the weak higher ed policy we already have. In fact, it’s trouble. Right here in River City. Trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for …..

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