For-profit col­leges ex­pect bet­ter days un­der Trump

The Commercial Appeal - - Nation - COLLIN BINK­LEY

BOS­TON - After near­ing col­lapse un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, the for-profit col­lege in­dus­try is cel­e­brat­ing Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion as a chance for a re­bound.

As stock prices for some of the na­tion’s largest col­lege chains have surged, in­dus­try lob­by­ists say they have re­ceived a warm wel­come from Trump’s tran­si­tion team and al­ready have launched a cam­paign to re­brand the em­bat­tled in­dus­try as a key to the new pres­i­dent’s plan for eco­nomic growth.

While Trump has yet to de­tail his ed­u­ca­tion plan, some in the for-profit sec­tor see the pres­i­dent-elect as an ally who has cham­pi­oned the pri­vate sec­tor and promised to roll back many of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s reg­u­la­tions.

In­dus­try lob­by­ists hope those in­clude fed­eral “gain­ful em­ploy­ment” rules, which can cut fund­ing to aca­demic pro­grams whose grad­u­ates strug­gle to pay off stu­dent debt, and new bor­rower de­fense rules that can force fi­nan­cially un­sta­ble schools to put up large sums of money to cover stu­dent loans if the school fails.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the fo­cus in the last eight years has been fight­ing for sur­vival from an ide­o­log­i­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion that was op­posed to our very ex­is­tence, and hope­fully that is a fight we will no longer have to wage,” said Steve Gunderson, pres­i­dent of the in­dus­try lob­by­ing group Ca­reer Ed­u­ca­tion Col­leges and Uni­ver­si­ties and a for­mer Repub­li­can con­gress­man.

Gunderson said that early con­ver­sa­tions with Trump’s tran­si­tion team showed prom­ise for a smoother re­la­tion­ship with the White House.

“They ab­so­lutely see a place for post­sec­ondary ca­reer ed­u­ca­tion which is not ex­clu­sively con­structed around just four-year lib­eral-arts pro­grams,” Gunderson said.

Trump’s tran­si­tion team did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

The for-profit col­lege in­dus­try has suf­fered steep en­roll­ment losses since 2010. Many schools blame Obama, whose ad­min­is­tra­tion has cracked down on schools ac­cused of fraud and added new reg­u­la­tions that of­fi­cials say were meant to pro­tect stu­dents from abuse.

In Septem­ber, the ITT Tech­ni­cal In­sti­tute chain shut down after the fed­eral gov­ern­ment mostly barred it from en­rolling new stu­dents as a sanc­tion for aca­demic trou­bles. A month later, the Apollo Ed­u­ca­tion Group, owner of the Uni­ver­sity of Phoenix, told in­vestors that it might not sur­vive the poli­cies of an­other Demo­cratic pres­i­dent.

Trump, who grad­u­ated from the Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, spoke lit­tle about for-profit col­leges dur­ing his cam­paign. His pick for ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary, Betsy DeVos, is known for pro­mot­ing char­ter schools and school vouch­ers but has less of a track record when it comes to higher ed­u­ca­tion. DeVos did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Ben Miller, se­nior direc­tor for post­sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion at the lib­eral think tank Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress, said it’s re­veal­ing that the in­dus­try is cel­e­brat­ing some­one ac­cused of mis­con­duct “that re­sem­bles the worst prac­tices of that in­dus­try.”

But Miller and other crit­ics doubt the sec­tor will see a ma­jor re­bound be­cause its im­age has al­ready been tar­nished.

To re­pair its rep­u­ta­tion, Gunderson’s group is re­brand­ing the in­dus­try as a key to Trump’s plan for eco­nomic growth. This month, the schools Gunderson rep­re­sents promised to train 5 mil­lion skilled work­ers over the next decade, echo­ing Trump’s prom­ise to cre­ate 25 mil­lion jobs in that span.

The DeVry Ed­u­ca­tion Group said in a state­ment that it will work with the ad­min­is­tra­tion and “of­fer sug­ges­tions and re­forms.” Shares in the par­ent com­pany of DeVry Uni­ver­sity jumped 30 per­cent in the weeks after Trump’s elec­tion, to their high­est value in more than a year.

Other for-profit col­leges de­clined to com­ment.

Those of­fer­ing re­cent sup­port to the in­dus­try in­clude for­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich, a close ad­viser to Trump who is mak­ing a case to be the pres­i­dent-elect’s strate­gic plan­ner. At a re­cent event in Dal­las for Gunderson’s group, Gin­grich urged the next ad­min­is­tra­tion to em­brace for­profit schools in its ed­u­ca­tion plan.

“They have an op­por­tu­nity to try to cre­ate a move­ment, to cre­ate 8.5 mil­lion new jobs, which gets pre­cisely at what Don­ald Trump has been cam­paign­ing on,” Gin­grich said in an interview.

Gin­grich, who is a friend of Gunderson, added that he be­lieves some of Obama’s ma­jor reg­u­la­tions tar­get­ing the in­dus­try will be scaled back.

“I ex­pect them to be dra­mat­i­cally mod­i­fied,” Gin­grich said.


For­mer Speaker of the House Newt Gin­grich has urged the next ad­min­is­tra­tion to em­brace for-profit schools in its ed­u­ca­tion plan.

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