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Richard D.
Democrat IL

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  • For-Profit Colleges

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2013-03-06

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    DURBIN. Grant Schaffer is a Marine veteran. He attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, a for-profit college owned by Education Management Corporation. Grant saw an advertisement for the school and thought the program he enrolled in would give him the skills he needed to succeed in the workforce after he left the Marines. After enrolling at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Grant became concerned about the quality of the school. He started doing his own research about the school, the program, and how many of the graduates actually got a job. What he realized was the program wasn't going to provide him with the skills that were promised. In fact, the jobs that his program would have prepared him to do didn't even require a college degree.

    Grant decided the program at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh was not worth his time or the Government's money--he was on the GI bill--so he decided to transfer to a community college. The problem was none of his credits from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh would transfer to any school, not even to a community college. Although he received GI bill benefits, those benefits did not cover the costs, all the costs of the inflated tuition of this Art Institute of Pittsburgh. After 1 year in the program--1 year--Grant had borrowed $32,000 over and above his GI bill benefits. Now Grant is in debt with worthless college credits from a for-profit school, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. He is now attending a community college, learning the skills he needs to succeed. He still is going to have to struggle to pay off $32,000 in debt to a for-profit school that was a worthless experience. He says one-quarter of his paycheck goes to his loans and he is living paycheck to paycheck. He says he cannot save for anything and all his money goes for student loans. He would save for retirement if he could.

    Grant was lucky, in some ways. Many of his peers stay at for-profit colleges and take on $70,000 or $80,000 or more in student loans, only later to find out the education at these for-profit schools was virtually worthless. Students also discover their credits will not transfer. That ought to be the first question any student asks: If I go to your for-profit school, will any other school recognize my credits? In this case the Art Institute of Pittsburgh would have had to answer no, and that might have given Grant some pause.

    These students such as Grant are stuck with mortgage-sized debts and end up with no home to show for it and worthless college credits. Grant Schaffer's credits would not transfer because his school had a different accreditation than even the community college he now attends.

    It is a little known fact these for-profit schools do not reveal to students: The credits will not transfer anywhere because the school is not accredited.

    Our current accreditation system favors schools, not students. That is upside-down. Schools pay accreditors to accredit them, creating a cozy relationship that does not foster any real accountability. Once a school is accredited, the Government dollars just flow in, but an accreditation is not always the guarantee of academic quality that most students believe it is and not all accreditations are equal.

    The University of Phoenix, the largest university in the United States, was recently told by its accrediting agency that the school would be put on notice. The regional accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, announced it had some real problems with the way the University of Phoenix is running its business and treating its students. More accreditors, both regional and national, should take a closer look at the schools they accredit and the standards used to accredit them.

    How many more people have to go through the experience of Grant Schaffer? Essentially, this former Marine wasted his GI bill benefits and got into more debt than he can realistically manage and has nothing to show for it from a for-profit school. We need to look at the current system of accreditation, consider how for-profit schools are aggressively recruiting our military, as well as using up the DOD tuition assistance benefits and veterans' GI bill benefits for low- income students. We need to commit to reforming our current system to protect our students and not to protect those who are in charge of the for-profit schools. We need to direct taxpayers' dollars to affordable, meaningful education that will literally help our men and women in uniform and students across America.

    I yield the floor.


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