by Paul Goldman
If you’re Brian Williams, the anchorman on NBC Nightly News, and you’re previewing a documentary expose on what the United Negro College Fund says “ruins lives” in the African-American community, who would you naturally expect your reporter to ask to defend the for-profit colleges at the heart of this growing, multi-billion-dollar scandal? The new head of the Virginia Democratic Party? You read that right – the new head of the Virginia Democratic Party is on national TV, defending the for-profit colleges at the center of a growing, multi-billion-dollar scandal.
This is shocking. Think about it: can you imagine Governors Chuck Robb, Jerry Baliles, Doug Wilder, Mark Warner, or Tim Kaine allowing their selection as Party Chair to go on national television as the chief apologist for what the network describes as the educational equivalent of the sub-prime mortgage scandal? But there he is, Brian Moran, the head of the DPVA, saying this industry is the savior, not the scourge, of those students — the largest percentage of whom are minorities from low income families, who attend these “schools.”
According to NBC, these for-profit colleges, the largest of which gets over 80% of its revenues from Uncle Sam (not unusual in this industry), account for nearly 50% of total student loan defaults in this country. And, amazingly, the total amount of student debt in America now exceeds the total credit card debt – largely as a result of the for-profit “education” industry!
As the NBC expose shows, there are serious questions about many aspects of this growing scandal, including an undercover government investigation indicating the use of deceptive practices to get these students to take on debt the schools know they are very unlikely to repay. More than half the students drop out before two years, and as Dr. Harvey of Hampton University pointed out in the Wall Street Journal, the graduation rate for the industry leader is so low, you don’t need all your fingers to count out the percentage. “Debt Without A Diploma ” mills they are called.
But I am not writing this to cause any DPVA members to worry: unlike the Florida Attorney General — and from what I’ve been told, maybe several other state Attorneys General, if not federal prosecutors may be looking into this — Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli is too busy chasing his white whale all across the national media to focus on the tens of thousands of Virginia residents who might be victims of consumer fraud by these “schools,” costing them collectively tens of millions of dollars. I suppose that Ken Cuccinelli must believe that if gay student, unmarried students living together, students who drink liquor, or those who are concerned with the environment or economic justice, get ripped off, then well, that will be a lesson to them, they brought these deceptive practices and huge debts on themselves.
Truth is, the for-profit “colleges” have now become the way for K-12 educators to continue what any number of national studies show: producing “feel good” stats on how many students are graduating now, how much learning is going on, that record numbers of kids are going to college. Of course, national statistics show that 30% of the high school graduates can’t read or write at a 9-10th grade level, so they fail the military entrance exam. And another 30% who are unable to do first-year college work without remedial help. Moreover, the fastest growing part of post-secondary education is the for-profit sector, especially when it comes to veterans. Senator Webb himself has questioned whether these schools are ripping off veterans.
No, Brian Moran didn’t create this terrible situation, and I’m sure in his heart of hearts he believes he is helping to solve it. But, at some point, doesn’t the head of the VA Democratic Party have to listen to President Obama, the Secretary of Education, leaders of the Historic Black Colleges and Universities like Dr. Harvey, the GAO investigation, the various media exposes of which NBC’s is just the latest, and finally the statistics developed not by the schools but by non-biased entities?
Let’s be blunt: the DPVA is dancing with the devil on this issue, and the only reason it will not get burned big time is: (1) the Washington Post’s reliance on Kaplan University to keep the paper afloat compromises their news reporters as their own Ombudsman warned last month; and (2) the “bigotry of low expectations” has undermined the morality of our political process in this area. I see it in my town of Richmond, where they insist on claiming levels of learning and graduation which have been systemically refuted by every independent study, Ever wonder why they don’t keep records on how the “graduates” do after they “graduate” and then go on to the next level of education? Councilman Marty Jewell in Richmond has done looking into this situation, as has a local reporter, Chris Dovi. But they don’t have any counterparts as of yet on the statewide scene.
In the end, it seems we are back to the famous line of Bob Dylan’s greatest song, “how many times can you turn your head and pretend that you just don’t see?” The answer, when it comes to Brian Moran’s dual role as DPVA chair and also for-profit “education” lobbyist: too many times to count.