Dear Commons Community,
There has been precious little discussion of education issues during the Republican presidential primaries. With all the rhetoric, debates, and more recently, accusations, the word “education” is a rarity. The New York Times is reporting that at a New Hampshire town hall meeting a month ago, Mitt Romney, in a response to a question about the cost of higher education, suggested that students should consider for-profit colleges like the Full Sail University in Florida. A week later in Iowa, Mr. Romney offered another unsolicited endorsement for “a place in Florida called Full Sail University.” By increasing competition, for-profit institutions like Full Sail, which focuses on the entertainment field, “hold down the cost of education” and help students get jobs without saddling them with excessive debt, he said.
There are several issues with his response. First, the entire for-profit higher education industry is under government scrutiny for fraudulent practices involving student financial aid, graduation rates, and gainful employment. Most for-profits are far more expensive than public universities especially community colleges. The cost of tuition at Full Sail for instance, can run as much as $80,000, for a 21-month program in “video game art.” The New York Times article comments:
“The $81,000 video game art program…graduated just 14 percent of its 272 students on time and only 38 percent at all, while the students carried a median debt load of nearly $59,000 in federal and private loans in 2008, according to data that the federal Education Department now requires for-profit colleges to disclose in response to criticism of their academic records.”
Second, Romney’s connection to Full Sail is its chief executive, Bill Heavener, a major campaign donor and a co-chairman of his state fund-raising team in Florida. That team, Mr. Romney said last fall when he appointed Mr. Heavener, “will be crucial to my efforts in Florida and across the country.”
Third, it also appears that Romney has received significant donations from other for-profit higher education entities including: “Todd S. Nelson, chief executive at the Education Management Corporation… gave the campaign $2,500. His company is the target of an $11 billion Justice Department lawsuit over accusations of fraudulent marketing and recruiting practices. Education Management is partly owned by Goldman Sachs, whose individual employees represent a bigger source of campaign revenue for Mr. Romney than any other single company… Mr. Romney also just brought on Charlie Black, a prominent Washington lobbyist who has worked for for-profit colleges, as an informal campaign adviser.”
Lastly, Romney’s position on this is consistent with his support of free markets and competition but it also puts him in direct opposition to President Barack Obama: “The remarks appeared intended to draw a sharp divide between Mr. Romney and President Obama, whose administration has imposed tighter regulations on for-profit colleges and limited the role of private companies in student lending. “