ABC’s Sherisse Pham reports:
A committee hearing turned into a political cat fight today, with Republican Senators accusing Democrats investigating for-profit schools of being “profit haters.”
The committee, with Sen. Tom Harkin, D-IA, at the helm, continued its investigation into the suspect practices of for-profit educational institutions, several of which were highlighted by ABC’s Chris Cuomo in a story last month. Ten minutes into the hearing, Sen. Enzi, R-Wyo., used his allotted time to criticize the committee for picking on one sector in a vacuum. Enzi said he came to Washington to make a difference not to make headlines and accused the administration of pulling an advertisement that seemed to favor for-profit schools in the interest of the upcoming election, and then abruptly left the hearing with a parting shot at Harkin.
“I’ll leave you to go ahead and beat up on the for-profit schools,” he said, before bolting out the door. Picking up on the drama, one witness, a whistle-blower who works at a for-profit educational company, said that she was insulted that there were so few Republicans in the room.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, called the investigation a “witch hunt,” and equated punishing the for-profit college industry to punishing returning veterans seeking higher education.
Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, took his time to read aloud sections from lobbyist Lanny Davis’ Huffington Post article, essentially calling the committee elitist Ivy Leaguers vilifying underdog for-profit private colleges. Davis (as Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., later pointed out) is a paid lobbyist for several for-profit colleges.
“This debate exemplifies the really sharp divisions between our two parties,” McCain said. “And hopefully, maybe in January it seems very clear that maybe we will have a different agenda for this committee and the United States Senate.”
McCain accused his liberal colleagues of hating everything with the word ‘profit’ in it. Like Enzi before him, he left the room immediately after delivering his prepared statement.
Harkin said he never thought this would dissolve into a political issue between republicans and democrats. “Is he implying politically that if the Republicans take over the Senate, that they won’t do anything about the for-profit sector, that they can just continue on as they’re doing?” he asked.
Political fighting aside, the for-profit educational industry did not come out well at this hearing. The report released at today’s hearing found that for-profit colleges aggressively target low-income students, have high dropout rates, and often graduate students ill-equipped to find work in related fields. Compared to their community college peers, students of for-profit institutions carry much higher debt loads and have higher default rates.