On Monday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee released a report on the for-profit college sector. The report, entitled “For Profit Higher Education: The Failure to Safeguard the Federal Investment and Ensure Student Success” is critical of industry practices and details marketing and recruiting strategies as well as graduation rates and debt burdens. According to the report, taxpayers contribute $32 billion a year to for-profit institutions through federal student loans, Pell grants and veterans’ benefits. The report also states that for students who enrolled in 2008 and 2009, only half attained degrees. The report was the result of a two-year investigation conducted under the leadership of HELP Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA). Preceding this report, Sen. Harkin’s efforts and the work of the HELP Committee had already sparked the release of three studies as well as legislative proposals. In January, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) introduced S. 2032 that would change a rule (the “90/10 rule”) that limits federal support to for-profit colleges and eliminate incentives for them to aggressively target veterans and service members in their recruiting. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) introduced S. 2296 which would prevent colleges and universities from using taxpayer dollars for marketing and recruiting. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced S. 3318 in June which would prohibit the use of the phrase “G.I. Bill” in the marketing materials of for-profit colleges. Republicans and industry representatives have criticized the investigations throughout the process and have called for the study to include all sectors of higher education. Many have also argued that targeting the for-profit sector could restrict access to college for minorities and single parents.
On Wednesday, the House approved a bill, by voice vote, that would enact stricter requirements for student visas. The Student Visa Reform Act (H.R. 3120) would require educational institutions to be accredited by an agency recognized by the Department of Education before they could accept foreign students on an “F” visa. “F” visas are non-immigrant visas that allow international students to study at American schools. The bill would allow the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive the accreditation requirement for institutions that adhere to visa requirements and are judged to be working toward accreditation. Current law mandates that English language programs be accredited in order for students to qualify for “F” visas but not other institutions. Bill sponsor Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) said the bill was aimed at stopping illegitimate institutions from enrolling foreign students and charging large fees without providing an adequate education. The bill may now be considered by the Senate.
On Wednesday, the House Science Space and Technology Committee’s Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing on partnership and collaboration between business and research universities. It was the second hearing held by the subcommittee in response to a report released in June by the Committee on Research Universities entitled “Research Universities and the Future of America: Ten Breakthrough Actions Vital to Our Nation’s Prosperity and Security.” Subcommittee Chair Mo Brooks (R-AL) highlighted the report’s finding that the connection between business and research universities has weakened and is essential for bringing new ideas into the marketplace. Witnesses told the House panel they are seeing a shortage of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professionals coming out of universities, despite the fact that these professionals are in high demand, and said this is an example of a disconnect between business’s needs and educational institutions. They also highlighted regulatory burdens as a hindrance to formal partnerships between companies and businesses, noting difficulties with visas and employing foreign students. Reducing regulatory burden was one of the report’s recommendations.
As a member of New England Council, we publish the DC Shuttle each week featuring higher ed news from Washington. This edition is drawn from the Council’s Weekly Washington Report Higher Education Update, of Aug. 6, 2012.
Founded in 1925, the New England Council is a nonpartisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth and a high quality of life in the New England region. The Council’s mission is to identify and support federal public policies and articulate the voice of its membership regionally and nationally on important issues facing New England. For more information, please visit: www.newenglandcouncil.com.