In recalling his work as a recruiter, Neiweem, who now works as a legislative associate at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (an advocacy group that’s backing the bill), said that DeVry was little more than a “business operation”—“a school in name only.” “The environment, day to day, was almost a mini Wall Street,” he said. “We were in an office [of cubicles] ... It was a business center, phones ringing all day, jovial elation whenever a sale happened.”
For-profit colleges typically spend more money on marketing and recruiting than on actual instruction, the HELP report found. And, according to Senate research, in the past five years, 40 percent of post-9/11 GI Bill tuition benefits have gone to the for-profit sector.
So why has the legislation floundered? Why has veteran enrollment at the eight for-profits most reliant on their revenues “dramatically increased” in the years since the 2012 HELP report, while overall student numbers have shrunk? Why are taxpayers, as a follow-up report last year revealed, paying twice as much for a veteran to attend a for-profit college as they are a veteran at a public one?
Carper, whose father also relied on GI Bill benefits, suspects that lobbying money—which in the for-profit sector alone has amounted to tens, sometimes hundreds, of thousands of dollars annually—has been one of the biggest obstacles to getting the loophole closed. Whether those influences will continue to outweigh the growing public interest in holding colleges accountable this year isn’t clear. A recent Propublica investigation found that the for-profit industry has maintained its political clout this year thanks to a rather unlikely ally: the traditional higher-ed lobby, which has largely sided with its for-profit counterpart in an effort to stymie broader initiatives aimed at beefing up regulation.
There’s also the challenge of getting the greenlight from the Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, who now chairs the HELP committee and will determine whether the bill advances. Alexander in an email declined to give specifics when asked whether he planned on considering the 90/10 legislation this year. He did note that the Senate education committee is currently deliberating the Higher Education Act, which is up for reauthorization and would need to be amended if the 90/10 rule were changed. The committee is “examining bipartisan proposals around accountability ... as part of that process,” he said. Laws and regulations affecting colleges, he added, should be applied equally across all higher-education sectors. Alexander has been vocal in criticizing the over-regulation of colleges.
Meanwhile, the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, the main trade and lobbying organization representing for-profit colleges, appears poised to wage intense opposition against the legislation. “The only effect that the proposed changes will have will be limiting access to education for the students who need it most,” said the association’s spokesman, Noah Black, in an email. He cited a study from Edvisors that found that 80 percent of community colleges would fail the 90/10 rule if it applied to them, and that institutions serving large percentages of low-income students are more likely to be in violation of the policy. “This proves that 90/10 is not a measure of institution quality, but rather a measure of the amount of income or savings a student has at the time of their enrollment,” Black said.