Earlier this week, FRONTLINE explored the shady world of online, for-profit education. One of my favorite quotes relates to how this industry is milking the federal government as a “cash cow”: “The taxpayers are essentially funding this industry; something like 75% of their revenue comes from federal grants and loans.” According to FRONTLINE, “This is a subject of increasing concern to the Obama administration, which, last month, remade the federal student loan program, and is now proposing changes that may make it harder for the for-profit colleges to qualify.”
So, who’s at the center of all this? That’s right, none other than our old pal, Harris Miller, last seen in 2006 calling Jim Webb a racist, misogynist, and anti-Semite. Here’s a transcript from Part 3 of the FRONTLINE story with Miller:
We talked to the chief Washington lobbyist for the for-profit schools, Harris Miller.
Frontline: “The industry has a black eye, has been struggling for credibility, why?
Harris Miller: “I don’t think the industry has a black eye, I think [they] are doing very well, growing by 25% a year, 2.8 million students attending our schools. We have some challenges because there have been some allegations that everything is not perfect, I wish it were.
Frontline: “But what about the pressure of Wall Street to have them grow.”
Harris Miller: “The pressure is to deliver a high education quality for their students. Our schools know that any time they step out of line, there’s a huge risk and there’s a large focus on compliance at all times, including on enrollment issues.”
Yeah, right, I’m sure that’s what Wall Street cares about regarding the for-profit education industry; not profit, but “education quality for their students.” Uh huh.
Anyway, Frontline then goes on to discuss the tremendous pressure put on recruiters to meet quotas, and how this “challenges anyone’s integrity.” The message in the industry is to create a “sense of urgency” among potential students, “Dig deep, get to their pain, get to what’s bothering them, so that that way you can convince them that a college degree is going to solve all their problems.”
It gets worse, though.
[more after the “flip”]
For instance, Frontline reports, “Graduates of another for-profit school — a college nursing program in California — tell FRONTLINE that they received their diplomas without ever setting foot in a hospital. Graduates at other for-profit schools report being unable to find a job, or make their student loan payments, because their degree was perceived to be of little worth by prospective employers.”
Slimy, slimier, slimiest. So how does this industry’s chief lobbyist defend the indefensible? Later in the FRONTLINE story, Miller states (with a straight face, amazingly): “We educate the students that traditional higher education has given up on. Traditional higher education has become a very socio-demographically elite group of people; if you’re not wealthy or upper middle class, you’re not going to get into a traditional higher education system. So, the only options lower income students and working adults have is either to go to a community college, some of them can go to minority-serving institutions, and our option is the third option.” One of the problems with this “third option,” FRONTLINE explains, is that “the debt load of for-profit students is more than twice that of students at traditional schools.” And that, according to FRONTLINE, is “troubling.”
In sum, the for-profit education industry, at least as portrayed by FRONTLINE, is about as slimy as you can get. At the minimum, they’re leaching off the taxpayers and the federal government while providing “education” of questionable quality and value to their “students.” I find it fascinating – but sadly, not surprising – that Harris Miller, who used to spend his days lobbying to facilitate the outsourcing of American IT jobs, now is the chief lobbyist for this shady industry. Of course, this is the same guy who liked to brag that he was a “genius” and a “visionary” while patting his wallet to draw attention to how much money he makes. Thank god we “drafted” Jim Webb and defeated this guy in June 2006, that’s all I have to say.