Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa hosted a July 21 roundtable in Washington to discuss possible reforms to improve the academic practices and track records of for-profit schools. The meeting was a follow-up to a July 13 briefing on the same subject by the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee, chaired by Harkin.
Steve Gonzalez, assistant director of The American Legion's Economic Division, attended the roundtable and said that all 30 of the for-profit schools investigated by Harkin's committee were invited to attend the event, "but only two representatives from those schools showed up - Daniel Hamburger from DeVry, Inc., and Hayes Batson from the Regency Beauty Institute."
Hamburger and Batson are both presidents and CEOs of their companies, headquartered in Downers Grove, Ill., and Brooklyn Park, Minn., respectively.
"More than once, Sen. Harkin made the point that each school the HELP Committee investigated was given the opportunity to justify their practices at this roundtable," Gonzalez said.
Another roundtable participant was Holly Petraeus, who directs the Office of Servicemember Affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington. Gonzalez said that Petraeus focused much of her attention on the "90/10 rule," which prohibits schools from receiving more than 90 percent of their revenue from federal sources.
"Petraeus expressed a lot of concern about servicemembers and veterans being targeted by for-profit schools with intense recruiting efforts," Gonzalez said. "Their GI Bill benefits are not currently counted as federal aid, so for every veteran these schools can recruit, they're able to enroll nine other students receiving federal dollars."
According to Carrie Wofford, a HELP Committee staff member, Petraeus said, "I think military folks are seen at this point like a dollar sign wearing a uniform in the for-profit model. They're seen as cash."
Gonzalez said that Hamburger suggested the federal government needs to create an oversight function that will gauge the rate of successful outcomes for students who graduate from for-profit institutions. Currently, neither the Department of Defense nor the Department of Veterans Affairs track the post-graduation career success of veterans who use their GI Bill education benefits.
Other roundtable participants included Michael Barr, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School; Jose Cruz, vice president for higher education policy and practice at The Education Trust; Robert Shireman, chief consultant at California Competes; and Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars & Admission Officers.
Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Al Franken of Minnesota also participated in the roundtable, which was open to the public. Murray chairs the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee.