Anyone with questions about whether it’s appropriate to have the leader of the Virginia Democratic Party lobbying – whether at the federal or state level – for the for-profit “education” industry desperately needs to read this report by The Education Trust. This group, by the way, is a respected, non-partisan, influential think tank, whose mission is “to close the gaps in opportunity and achievement that consign far too many young people-especially those from low-income families or who are black, Latino, or American Indian-to lives on the margins of the American mainstream.”
In that context, The Education Trust’s new report, “Subprime Opportunity: The Unfulfilled Promise of For-Profit Colleges and Universities,” is utterly devastating, and should remove the last shred of doubt from anyone’s mind that this industry is utterly heinous. In short, according to The Education Trust, this industry targets “the most vulnerable Americans” and is basically a bunch of “corporations peddling access to the American dream but delivering little more than crippling debt.” No wonder why the for-profit “education” industry has been condemned by everyone from the United Negro College Fund to Senators Jim Webb and Dick Durbin to a blistering FRONTLINE expose to a report by Senator Tom Harkin to the Obama Administration to…it goes on and on.
What does this new report conclude? A few highlights (actually, lowlights of this dirtbag industry):
*”Today’s low-income and minority students, seeking college degrees in record numbers, are recruited aggressively by for-profit colleges.”
*”For-profit tuition is higher than at public institutions, and once grant aid is taken into account, unmet need is even higher than at private nonprofit colleges and universities.”
*”Students borrow heavily, resulting in heavy debt burden and high loan defaults, which indicates that few end up with a marketable degree or credential.”
As if all that’s not bad enough, this report concludes that the for-profit “education” industry makes “the rich, richer and the poor, poorer,” providing “highcost degree programs that have little chance of leading to high-paying careers,” “[saddling] the most vulnerable students with heavy debt,” and “[paving] a path into the subbasement of the American economy.”
This industry’s chief lobbying organization is the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU). Given that almost every progressive organization and leading Democrat opposes the industry this group represents, you’d think that no self-respecting Democrats would work there at high levels. And yet, sadly, two leading Virginia Democrats are essentially the top two people in APSCU. One of them, our old friend (and 2006 U.S. Senate candidate) Harris Miller is not surprising, as he’s been a lobbyist for highly questionable groups for years. As the AFL-CIO put it back in 2006, “Miller is truly one of the bad guys. Over and over again on core issues like trade, immigration, overtime protections and privatization of federal jobs, he’s not only been on the wrong side, he’s been galvanizing corporate efforts against us.” And now he’s doing it again, but this time in the education sector. Horrible…but not surprising, given that this is Harris Miller after all.
The other leading Virginia Democrat at a high level in APSCU is the one that’s truly shocking, as most people view former Delegate and former House Democratic Caucus Chair Brian Moran as a progressive and as a good guy. Personally, I considered Brian Moran to be a friend for many years, was initially a supporter of his for governor against Creigh Deeds (I drifted away from the Moran camp over the summer and fall of 2008 as I didn’t believe Moran knew why – or could articulate why – he wanted to be governor, and also that he was running an aimless, rudderless, increasingly divisive campaign), and had no reason to believe he was anything but a solid Democrat who shared my values.
But then he joined up with Harris Miller as a lobbyist for the Career College Association (now renamed APSCU). And yes, I’m well aware that everyone needs to make a living, to feed their families, etc. I’m also well aware that Brian Moran took a major hit financially – and in other ways – in his failed run for governor, so that it was probably tough to say “no” to a lucrative job offer, even by a slimy organization led by “truly one of the bad guys.” So yes, of course he needed a job, and if this was the only job offered to him I can see, at one level (although still not agree with), why he would take it.
What’s truly surprising to me is that one of Brian Moran’s powerful friends – Jim Moran, Mark Warner, Tim Kaine – couldn’t have arranged to get Brian a well-paid job in a group that fights for, not against, Democratic and progressive values. How about heading up a pro-environment group, for instance, given that Brian made environmental protection a centerpiece of his campaign for governor (at least in the post-Terry McAuliffe-announcement, post-hiring-of-Joe-Trippi phase)?
To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, of all the lobby shops all over Washington, Brian Moran walks into this one?!? Honestly, there are times when I just scratch my head and wonder how we Democrats ever win anything. And, honestly, it’s times like this when I wonder how we ever convince anyone that we will fight for working people, for the disadvantaged, for the most vulnerable Americans.
Certainly, as the new report by The Education Trust points out, the for-profit “education” industry doesn’t do any of that; in fact, it does the exact opposite. So how can we have someone – even someone who’s your friend, who you like, who you’ve known for years – leading and lobbying for this group as his “day job” simultaneously heading up our party and espousing its (polar opposite) values? I’m utterly baffled, can anyone please explain?