As For-Profit College Profits Soar, So Does The Industry's Political Spending

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Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has released a blistering new report on the for-profit college industry, noting that:

“In this report, you will find overwhelming documentation of exorbitant tuition, aggressive recruiting practices, abysmal student outcomes, taxpayer dollars spent on marketing and pocketed as profit, and regulatory evasion and manipulation. These practices are not the exception—they are the norm. They are systemic throughout the industry, with very few individual exceptions.”

The report, from the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, found that more than half of students at for-profit schools left without a degree, the industry spent more money on marketing than instruction, and executives were getting paid big salaries—all with the help of billions of dollars in federal student aid.

Just as the industry has seen an increase in prominence and profits over the past few years, its spending on politics has also increased dramatically, according to analysis of Center for Responsive Politics data.

  • So far in the 2012 cycle, the for-profit education industry has given $2.4 million in campaign contributions to federal candidates—more than it made in all of the 2010 cycle and a 57 percent increase from 2008. Apollo Group (which owns University of Phoenix) tops the list so far this cycle, with $419,621 in donations.
  • Congressman John Kline (R-Minn.), chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, is the top recipient of the industry’s donations this cycle, having received $145,524. In June, he condemned new regulations issued by the Department of Education that require for-profit colleges to demonstrate that they’ve prepared students for “gainful employment in a recognized occupation.”
  • Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is second this cycle, with at least $107,557 from the industry (President Obama has received $34,360). Restore Our Future, the main super PAC supporting Romney’s candidacy, received at least four times that amount through March, as reported by USA Today.
  • Other top recipients this cycle include Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.), who has received $53,701, and Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), who has received $50,000.
  • In the first half of 2012, the industry spent $3.9 million lobbying Congress and federal officials, roughly 50 percent more than it spent in all of 2009 ($2.6 million). The industry spent $10.2 million on lobbying in 2011. Ninety of the 128 lobbyists working for the industry this year have previously worked in Congress or for federal agencies.
  • The industry’s trade association, the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, spent $530,000 on lobbyists in the first half of 2012.

This reported spending could be just the tip of the iceberg, as these companies could also be giving money to outside groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or others that are spending money to influence elections without disclosing their donors. 

With research help from Kurt Walters.