U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois sent high school principals in his state a letter Tuesday urging them to shield their students from the "often irresistible lure" of for-profit colleges -- drawing a pointed response from one of his constituents, DeVry Education Group.
Durbin, a leader among the Congressional Democrats who are deeply skeptical of the for-profit higher education sector, told the principals that he was continuing his work in Washington to "correct federal policies that enable this industry to take advantage of students." But he asked the principals to do their part to "ensure that your students are receiving honest and accurate information about their higher education options. "Students can hardly ride a CTA bus, watch their favorite prime-time sitcom, or surf the internet without being bombarded by attention-grabbing advertisements from for-profit colleges offering a hassle-free enrollment process, federal financial assistance, flexible schedules and a promised path to high-paying jobs and a better life," Durbin wrote. "But too often it doesn't work out that way."
His letter cites statistics about the completion rates and debt loads of the colleges' students and suggests that principals remind their students that community colleges offer similar programs "at a fraction of the cost."
In its response, DeVry, which is based near Durbin's Chicago home, noted that DeVry has educated tens of thousands of Illinoisans since 1931 and that the company teams with the Chicago Public Schools on an Advantage Academy that lets students earn associate degree credits while in high school. The program, it notes, was started in tandem with the then-head of the city's schools, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a close ally of Durbin's.
"The facts, and our history, demonstrate our commitment to Illinois students and their success in higher education," wrote Sharon Thomas Parrott, DeVry's senior vice president for external relations and global responsibility. "We encourage the senator to visit our Chicago campus, and our Advantage Academy, so that he can learn firsthand how we serve our students."