By Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA). Sen. Harkin is Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
For-profit colleges have seen explosive growth in recent years. Top executives have made fabulous fortunes, and shareholders have profited richly. But for many students at for-profit colleges, it has been a very different story. Despite glowing promises of a diploma followed by a good job, most students leave without graduating, many with few employment prospects, and nearly all with massive debts that could follow them the rest of their lives.
This is a shame, because many for-profit colleges offer innovative options for students juggling work and family obligations. With more focus on students and less on shareholders, they could be a more valuable part of our higher education system. Regrettably, an ongoing investigation by my Committee has exposed an industry stained by widespread fraudulent and deceptive recruiting practices, overpriced programs, and staggering dropout rates.
Just as subprime lenders used the promise of homeownership to lure Americans into loans they couldn't afford, some for-profit schools are using the promise of higher education to lure students into taking on large amounts of student loan debt without delivering the promised increase in earning power.
An undercover General Accountability Office investigation found that all 15 schools they visited in May/June 2010 were using deceptive recruiting practices to convince students to enroll and take out loans. Witnesses at HELP Committee hearings have told horrifying stories of taking on massive debt only to find that the programs they enrolled in weren't accredited or that the clinical programs they had been promised did not exist.