Preying on students

Dear friends,

Hundreds of thousands of people go into debt every year enrolling in for-profit higher education programs like DeVry and Argosy — sold on the idea that they’ll graduate with skills that will lead to opportunity and a better life. In reality, many come out with a mountain of debt they can’t pay back and no better prospects at employment.[1]

Thankfully, the Obama administration is trying to rein in the industry that preys on low-income Americans. Their plan is to stop federal financial aid from going to higher ed programs that don’t actually help students get jobs and pay off their debt.[2] Not surprisingly, the industry is fighting back hard, despite its atrocious record: their students make up 10% of those in higher ed but 40% of students who stop making payments on their loans.[3]

The Department of Education will make a decision soon on how to regulate this industry — and they’re under huge pressure from industry lobbyists. Will you join me in calling on Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Congress to stand strong and protect the interests and futures of low-income students — It only takes a moment:…

Taking time away from work to get a traditional college education can feel like an impossible proposition for many Americans, and for-profit colleges seem like a quick, flexible way to get ahead. They promise low-income folks the job training it takes to escape poverty.

There’s a catch with these so-called career education programs. Recruiters say the certificates they offer will prepare students for good jobs if they’ll take on huge student loans to enroll. But the schools often leave people deep in debt and with credentials that employers don’t take seriously.[4] Students think they’re doing what it takes to escape minimum wage jobs. They’re actually getting deeper into financial trouble.

It’s an issue that disproportionately affects cash-strapped Black folks who work long hours and for whom higher education at public universities or private, non-profit colleges feels impossible. A quarter of Black Americans with associate degrees get them from for-profit colleges, and 40% of these schools’ alumni are people of color.[5]

When Black folks decide to pursue post-secondary schooling, we’re often the first in our families to do so. And we typically have to navigate a complex process on our own and with limited information. For-profit colleges have bee caught preying on this fact — misleading students, using deceptive practices, and even encouraging applicants to enter false information on their financial aid forms.[6] Statistics show that people who enroll at for-profit schools are much less able to manage their debt than those who go to non-profit schools.[7]

The Obama administration’s proposed “gainful employment” rule would make sure that students who use federal financial aid to pay for school are able to get jobs after graduating that will allow them to repay their debt. In practice, it would force many for-profit institutions to either lower their tuition or improve their programs. But industry lobbyists are trying to kill the Obama administration’s proposed rule. They argue that for-profit colleges will be unfairly targeted by the regulation — a position that doesn’t hold water. The truth is that certificate programs at both for- and non-profit colleges will be subject to the rule.[8]

Some legislators, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) are backing up the industry’s claims.[9] They put forth a blame-the-victim argument that says the problem isn’t the programs, its students’ impoverished backgrounds and inability to manage their finances. It’s infuriating, and thankfully that logic is being called out by CBC members Reps. Gwen Moore (D-WI) and Maxine Waters (D-CA) and civil rights organizations including the NAACP, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the United Negro College Fund, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, LULAC, National Council of La Raza and United States Hispanic Leadership Institute.[10]

Please join me in calling on the Obama administration and members of Congress to resist industry pressures and regulate higher education programs that don’t serve our communities.

You can add your voice here:



3. See reference 2.
5. (NB: Rainbow PUSH has reversed its position and now supports the DOE’s proposed rule)
7. See reference 2.

Additional resources:


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