Entrenched snobbery has long maligned the country's traditional colleges and universities' attitude toward for-profit higher ed. But that deeply held elitism is being tossed aside since collective cash is on the line.
Inside the high-dollar K Street offices in downtown Washington, D.C., most of the groups making up the college establishment lobby have shifted course. They're now aligning themselves with career colleges as the federal government once again attempts to impose accountability rules across higher ed.
The reason for the unlikely alliance is the $150 billion feeding trough that the fed lays out annually in the form of Pell grants and student subsidized loans.
In a letter penned earlier this year to House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline, Minnesota's Most Reprehensible Congressman (TM), a majority of traditional higher ed's lobbying groups declared support for Republican legislation crafted to not only derail new oversight for career colleges, but also to water down accountability rules governing all colleges.
Written on behalf of the likes of American Association of State Colleges and Universities and American Council on Education, the letter fearfully spoke of greater bureaucratic burdens for schools and "the potential to do considerable harm to many institutions and the students they serve."
The Obama administration wants to establish a new federal ratings system for colleges and universities. It's pitched as a much-needed tool to help families choose institutions based on student graduation rates and where they get jobs.
Proponents of the ratings system also argue the fed is obligated to look out for taxpayers, who with billions of dollars annually bankroll higher ed via grants and subsidized loans.
Traditional higher ed's letter voiced support for the Supporting Academic Freedom through Regulatory Relief Act as well.
The grandly titled proposal is Rep. Kline's obstructionist stab at killing higher ed reform.
It ensures that students can select the college of their choice — no matter how poorly those schools perform. The bill keeps students in the dark by blocking the feds from forcing colleges to disclose graduation rates and median student debt loads. It also bars the government from enforcing any standards that might strip a school of its federal money.
In essence, traditional colleges and universities want what career colleges and Kline, for-profit higher ed's campaign contribution king, want: the money free-flowing, zero regulation status quo.
"Many thoughtful leaders in higher education have spoken out in favor of sensible rules to prevent abuses by predatory for-profit colleges," says David Halperin, an attorney who's written extensively about career colleges. "Unfortunately, some of the worst for-profit colleges spend heavily on lobbying and campaign contributions, and they have basically bought the Republican Party.
"Now that the GOP controls Congress, some of the lobby groups for traditional higher ed have decided to curry favor with Congress by joining the for-profits in opposing accountability rules. It's money corrupting good policy."
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