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As Subprime College Industry Ramps Up Lobbying, Phony Letters Attack Reform Proponents

By Lee Fang  

"As Subprime College Industry Ramps Up Lobbying, Phony Letters Attack Reform Proponents"

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The for-profit school industry is currently engaged in a pitched lobbying battle to stop the Department of Education from implementing new regulations to increase accountability for career colleges and other for-profit higher education companies. Investigations by the Government Accountability Office, the Los Angeles Times, PBS Frontline, and others have found that the for-profit “subprime” school industry routinely fools students into taking loans they are not prepared to pay back by scamming students with false promises of high paying jobs, falsely claiming that their credits transfer to major universities, and promising certifications that the schools are not prepared to provide. Although just 11 percent of higher education students in the country attend for-profit schools, they account for 26 percent of federal student loans and 44 percent of student loan defaults — and 90 percent of their money comes from taxpayer-funded programs.

As the industry ramps up its lobbying efforts — just this week, hiring another high-profile political press flak — ThinkProgress has learned of a new set of fake letters supporting the industry, this time to intimidate reform proponents from playing a part in the process. In January, Campus Progress, an affiliate of the same nonprofit that hosts ThinkProgress, the Center for American Progress, helped organize a letter urging the Obama administration to enact strong regulations to curb the abuses by the for-profit college industry. Many of the organizations that cosigned the letter later received nearly identical e-mails attacking the reforms and urging them to disassociate themselves from the coalition effort. The identical letters, from apparently fake constituents of each group, cited a silly, debunked conspiracy theory conjured by lobbyists to smear proponents of reform. The false assertions in the letters paralleled suggestions in articles published the same week by a contributor to the Daily Caller website and by Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW). The source of the letters remains a mystery at this time. Below are three screenshots of such letters:

Below are three screenshots of such letters:

To see more of the copy-and-paste-attack letters to reform proponents, click here.

Currently, Rep. John Kline (R-MN), Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and other lawmakers are proposing an amendment to the budget continuing resolution to block the Department of Education from reining in out of control subprime schools. Kline, who has accepted over $100,000 in campaign funds from subprime college companies, has even sought a bailout of the industry with even more taxpayer money. Hastings, another friend of the industry, participated in an industry-orchestrated rally last year (here he is at the rally with industry lobbyists). Despite powerful floor statements by advocates for holding the worst for-profit schools accountable, the amendment passed the House Thursday night on a voice vote, with a roll call vote scheduled for later today.

Earlier this week, ThinkProgress revealed several elements of the subprime school lobbying campaign. The industry has retained over a dozen high profile lobbying firms, deployed television and Internet advertising, and perhaps most insidiously, has hired a number of astroturf lobbying firms to generate fake letters and public outrage on behalf of the industry. For instance, Goldman Sachs-owned Education Management Corporation (known for its Art Institutes and other for-profit colleges) has retained the infamous astroturf firm DCI Group and has generated 74 identical letters from the same person opposing reform.

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