Marco Rubio Champions For-Profit Colleges In His Education Agenda, But Won’t Mention Them By Name

CREDIT: Jim Cole, AP

In an op-ed for the Des Moines Register, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is running for president, explained his education reform agenda, which includes loosening rules for accreditation, requiring schools to tell students how much their degrees will earn them, and promoting income-share agreements, which allow investors pay for part of a student’s tuition with the idea that the graduate will pay them back later, and emphasizing vocational education. Rubio wrote:

First, I will reform our accreditation system to welcome low-cost, innovative higher education providers, which are currently being blocked by the existing institutions that control accreditation. This will transform higher education by exposing it to the market forces of choice and competition. The needs of students will become the primary driving force. As more affordable and accessible providers enter, existing colleges and universities will be forced to lower their prices to stay competitive.

Rubio first laid out some of these priorities before in a speech in Chicago in July. He has championed the idea of loosening accreditation rules repeatedly, despite the fact that accreditation rules are already quite loose, since for-profit college executives often sit on the boards of accrediting bodies. Rubio said a loosening of accreditation rules will allow for more “lower cost” and “innovative” options, though he never gets into the specifics of why he thinks the rules are too stringent.

Although Rubio is careful not to refer to for-profit colleges by name, many of the reforms he champions would benefit for-profit colleges, which are generally not lower cost alternatives to traditional colleges, despite what their marketing may lead students to believe. For-profit college students, many of whom are low-income, are often provided a misleading picture of how much they’re borrowing in student loans, and for-profit colleges tend to raise tuition in order to push expensive private loans onto their students. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) sued Corinthian Colleges, as well as ITT Tech, over these schemes last year. Because federal money can’t go to more than 90 percent of operating revenue, Corinthian could have raised tuition so students would have to turn to private loans, the CFPB said.

For-profit college students, because they are low-income, are already in worse financial shape than traditional college students. Because career outcomes for for-profit college students tend to be poor, they aren’t able to earn enough money to pay back those loans as traditional college students would, according to a paper released last week by the Brookings Institution, a centrist think tank.

Rubio’s support of for-profit colleges also comes on the heels of a college scorecard released by the White House last Saturday, which shows that for-profit colleges have the worst repayment rates. For students in their third year of repayment, 43 percent of private for-profit college students were paying back loans compared to compared to 77 percent at private nonprofit schools and 70 percent at public schools. Schools with the worst repayment rates included Camelot College, Jay’s Technical Institute, a for-profit cosmetology school in Texas, and MCI Institute of Technology, a for-profit career institute that offers programs in cosmetology and massage therapy, and other for-profit colleges. Jay’s Technical Institute has been on the U.S. Department of Education’s heightened cash monitoring list for years because of how it was documenting student aid.

The scorecard also shows that accrediting bodies, both national and regional, have been accrediting institutions where students earn less than $25,000 as long as a decade after graduation. The highest percentage of students making less than $25,000 a decade after graduation, at 67 percent, belonged to schools accredited by the National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences, according to the Center for American Progress’ analysis of the data.

Compared to the rest of the GOP field, which is generally in favor of for-profit colleges, Rubio has been especially supportive of for-profit colleges. He advocated on behalf of Corinthian Colleges in a letter to the U.S. Department of Education and asked for leniency in its investigation of the for-profit college chain. Corinthian Colleges shut down all of its campuses in May after the department found the college released misleading job placement rates and announced it would fine the company $30 million. Rubio has also accepted $27,600 in contributions from Corinthian Colleges throughout the past five years. The last donation filed with the Federal Election Commission was for $2,700 on April 30, Bloomberg reported. The Florida senator also worked with Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) on a budget amendment earlier this year that would create an alternative accreditation process.