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WASHINGTON -- In remarks to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities Tuesday, a Republican Congresswoman used a Holocaust reference to suggest that private college leaders should have stood up to the Obama administration's regulation of for-profit colleges.

In criticizing the private college presidents, Representative Virginia Foxx, the North Carolina Republican who leads the subcommittee on higher education, adapted the famous statement from the German theologian Martin Niemöller on Germans who ignored Nazi persecution. ("First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a communist.")

" 'They came for the for-profits, and I didn't speak up...' " Foxx said. "Nobody really spoke up like they should have." 

At a meeting with staff from Congress and the Education Department on Monday, private college presidents at the meeting said they wished the federal government had done more to regulate for-profit colleges, pointing to higher default rates among graduates and dropouts of those institutions. The administration's "gainful employment" rule, currently in legal limbo, would have cut federal money to vocational programs with low debt repayment rates or high debt-to-income ratios among graduates.

Many of the discussions of federal policy at the annual meeting were about fears that the Education Department and Congress would indeed apply their regulatory approach to for-profit colleges to all of higher education, including private nonprofit colleges -- which NAICU would strongly oppose. The application of "gainful employment" to all institutions is a common fear, especially after President Obama said in his State of the Union last January that he would seek to use some financial aid programs to reward colleges that offer "good value" and punish those that don't.

"First they came" has been adapted for a wide range of political protests, more commonly -- at least during the Obama administration -- among conservatives. (In the past few months, it's been used on conservative blogs and websites to protest higher tax rates, the contraception insurance mandate for religious institutions, and the bankruptcy of Hostess, the company that manufactures Twinkies). Asked if the Congresswoman meant to imply that the gainful employment regulation was comparable to the Holocaust, Foxx's spokeswoman, Ericka Perryman, said, "Of course not."
Foxx, a former community college president who has chaired the Education and the Workforce's Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training since 2011, has created controversy with some of her statements in the past. At Tuesday's event, she told the private college presidents that her new position as vice chair of the House Committee on Rules usually would have meant she would need to resign as chair of the higher education subcommittee, but that the House changed that requirement for her because she was the only House Republican with higher education experience.

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